The McClain Lady Tigers team and coaches celebrate their sectional title, Friday at MHS. (HCP Photos/Jim Jones)
The McClain Lady Tigers team and coaches celebrate their sectional title, Friday at MHS. (HCP Photos/Jim Jones)
GREENFIELD — Two consecutive 3-pointers from nearly the same exact spot by McClain senior Jaelyn Pitzer were the much-needed spark the Lady Tigers had to have in the second frame of their Division II SE District Sectional Final game against the River Valley Lady Raiders on Friday night at McClain Gym.

Those two 3-pointers by Pitzer were a part of a second-quarter surge by the trailing Lady Tigers which saw McClain eventually gain the lead by the time halftime arrived and not trail for the remainder of the tournament game, as the No. 6 seeded McClain defeated the No. 11 seeded Lady Raiders, 52-34 to earn a long-awaited sectional championship.

This is the first sectional title for McClain in Division II since 2012, plus it is their first sectional title in any division since 2015. Friday’s win marked the 21st overall sectional title in program history.

As good as the final three frames were to the host McClain squad, the first quarter was the complete opposite as the Lady Tigers scored just four points, while River Valley had their best quarter of the game with a 14-point output, giving them a 10-point lead after the opening frame.

Following what was also a turnover-filled first frame by both teams — unofficially, both teams had seven first-quarter turnovers each — the second frame was much better for the home team as they outscored River Valley by a 16-4 differential, putting McClain in front at halftime by a 20-18 score.

McClain opened the second quarter with a layup by Bri Weller, who on Friday was also named the Frontier Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Next came two points from Iva Easter, as she came off the bench to start the spark for McClain. Weller ended the game with 11 points (nine rebounds), while Easter totaled 10 points for MHS.

“Bri is one of those kids who has gotten better every year, and this year she has just put it together,” MHS head coach Jarrod Haines said of the FAC Player of the Year. “She’s a great teammate and does everything well, and she is a tough matchup for teams. She’s playing some really good basketball, and she’s super deserving of the (FAC) award, and it goes to show the respect that other coaches give her.”

After a point was scored by the visitors, that’s when the game really began to change for McClain as Pitzer hit the first of her 3-pointers at the 6:03 mark, and next the second trey came at the 5:31 mark, taking McClain from trailing by seven points to moving the Lady Tigers to within a single point of tying the score. Pitzer finished with seven points and three rebounds.

“We went almost two weeks without playing a basketball game, had some practices and went over our man stuff, but we didn’t go over much zone stuff, so it was a good adjustment by our girls. That’s when you have a senior out there … Jaelyn Pitzer had two huge threes for us to get us started,” Haines said. “We were struggling getting started, and once she did that, we opened things up.

“River Valley has two players who can shoot the ball well, and they are quick. Defensively — after the first quarter — and giving up 14 points we settled down, and held them to four points in the quarter, so I was pleased with that. I knew we had better basketball to play. We had huge minutes from everybody. Evelyn Van Zant off the bench, Iva Easter off the bench, they were a huge spark, then Jaelyn hit those two threes, it was really big for us. I’m proud of everyone. We just have to keep playing, keep playing together, and someone different has to keep stepping up, and we have to keep going.”

McClain eventually didn’t tie the score … rather, they took the lead following a layup by senior Kyla Burchett at the 4:26 mark of the frame for a 16-15 lead. Burchett added two more points for MHS with a jumper, and she scored the final two points of the second frame for a halftime lead of two points at 20-18 in favor of McClain. Burchett finished the game with nine points and four rebounds.

Though River Valley tied the score at the start of the third frame with 6:17 on the clock, Weller put MHS back in front. Again, River Valley tied the score with two points in the paint from Hannah Jacks (who led RVHS with 19 points), but McClain didn’t back up. They began another strong showing at the hoop on multiple occasions as Payton Pryor scored two points on a put-back basket, plus she had eight rebounds in the third frame alone. For the game, Pryor totaled 11 rebound, and had a double-double with with 10 points scored.

“Payton owned the boards in the third and fourth quarter, and I challenged her a little bit at halftime and she came out and dominated the boards,” Haines said. “She’s a gritty kid, and you can get after her, and she’ll fix it. I’m proud of her effort in the second half.”

Next were two made free throws by Burchett (an All-FAC selection), and then came a jumper by Evelyn Van Zant at the 3:35 mark of the third frame for a 28-22 MHS lead. Van Zant totaled five points in the win.

“Kyla got to the rim in the second quarter and made some things happen,” Haines said. “She shoots the ball extremely well and has started in huge games for us.”

The Lady Tigers added another point by Van Zant for what was a 7-0 run in around three minutes of game time for a seven-point advantage.

After two points by the visitors, Van Zant scored her fifth straight point of the frame with a put-back bucket. Both teams exchanged free throws to end the third, as MHS won the quarter at 12-7 and led 32-25 after three frames.

McClain added to their lead to start the final frame with two points by Pryor, and four points from Weller — including a 3-pointer — extended their lead to 38-25 with with around 6:00 left in regulation.

Lauren Twyman answered with the three-point play, but two free throws by Weller, plus a layup from Pryor with 3:44 on the clock, left the Lady Tigers ahead 42-28.

The game was in hand for McClain in the latter stages of the fourth frame, ending the game with made free throws by Easter, Pitzer, Weller and Burchett for the 18-point sectional final victory.

Also, the defensive play of All-FAC selection Emma Stegbauer stood out for the Lady Tigers. The point guard not only set up the offense for MHS, but her defense was stout and was a big part of the Lady Tigers’ win, as Coach Haines explained following the game. Stegbauer totaled three rebounds to go with her overall play.

“Emma averages 6.5 points per game, but what she does is not always on paper,” Haines said. “Tonight she got to guard their best player, and then gets us into our offense and does a great job with that, and she averages 2.5 steals per game and two assists per game, so everything she does helps us. She gives up a lot with her defense. She’s our floor general.”

For the game, McClain as a team unofficially totaled 35 rebounds, plus they were 17-of-25 from the free-throw line.

Next for McClain is a trip to Circleville, as the McClain Lady Tigers will face the No. 1 seeded Circleville Lady Tigers on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at CHS.