GAINESVILLE?— Mount Morris gave No. 1-seeded Romulus a wakeup call in the Section V, Class D1 semifinals.
The Warriors got the message loud and clear.
Romulus started Friday night’s championship game on a 10-0 run and led 40-16 at the half, racing to the program’s first Section V title since 2006 with a 73-50 victory over No. 2 Jasper-Troupsburg.
The Warriors (20-0) have been the D1 favorite all season, but the team of destiny narrative was nearly derailed by Mount Morris. The Blue Devils took Romulus to overtime in the semifinals, a rare close call for the Warriors that gave the team a new sense of urgency heading into Friday’s finals in Gainesville.
“It sure did,” said Romulus head coach Damon Nicholson. “We had such big scores all year long, beating teams. They never really were in that situation, very rarely. We were very lucky to get out of that game against Mount Morris. We’re happy to be here. We just played really well tonight.”
Tournament MVP?Jessica Rhone started the game with five straight points, and Romulus was off to the races. The Warriors led 10-0 with 5:46 left in the first quarter. Romulus poured in 20 points before the game was four minutes old, taking a 20-3 lead on a Jenny Tompkins free throw.
“To their credit, they hit every shot they took and we didn’t,”?said J-T head coach Aaron Button. “We talked about not getting back on our heels, and we got back on our heels. When I’ve watched them on tape, they’ve either been on huge rolls, or they’ve struggled and you can hang with them. They went on that big roll tonight. They’re big and they’re fast.”
The Romulus roster features three players listed at 5-11 or taller, and the Warriors owned the paint all night. Six-foot center Breanne Berlin led all scorers with 21 points, while Rhone, an inside-out threat at 5-11, added 19 points. Point guard Cheyenne Howe chipped in 11.
Button — no stranger to elite competition with six finals appearances in eight years — had high praise for the Warriors after the game.
“This is my eighth year, and that’s the best team I’ve seen in eight years,” Button said. “If you want to ask for everything — size, speed, good guard play. Generally teams will have one of them, maybe a good guard and one big. They’ve got four bigs, and the kids that come off the bench are good guards.
“I wish (D2 champion) Prattsburgh all the luck, but this is a state-caliber team. I’ve said it right from the beginning.”
J-T (19-2) is normally the one causing havoc and creating turnovers, but the Romulus defense limited the Wildcats to a season-low 16 first-half points. A Hannah Miles triple briefly cut the lead to 15 early in the second quarter before Romulus went on another run.
McKenzie Prutsman got going in the second half and finished with a team-high 19 points to lead J-T, while Miles added 13. Both juniors were named to the All-Tournament team.
“We knew we had to contain Prutsman,” Nicholson said. “We had to keep her in front of us. We had to keep Miles in front of us. If we did that, I knew we could take some points away from them. Even in their halfcourt stuff, we really emphasized pinching off that lane they like to get into. We did that, and defensively that made a big difference.”
The Warriors were no slouches on offense, either. The 73 points was 20 more than J-T had allowed in any other game this season. While the lead lingered around 30 for much of the second half, the Wildcats kept up the pressure until the final buzzer, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve seen teams get blown out before, but we didn’t quit,” Button said. “Those kids fought hard right to the end. That’s all you can ask of them. To go 19-2 and make it to the finals, I’m proud of the kids.”
The Wildcats lost senior standout Kendall Austin to injury around the halfway point of the season. J-T will graduate two other seniors, starters Erin Cornish and Angel Schoonover.
“They’ve really dedicated themselves ever since they were in fifth and sixth grade,”?Button said. “We’re going to miss them a lot. It’s nice to have six coming back too, so we’ll build on that.
“I told them the other day, there’s a lot of kids from all over the area who play their whole high school career and never get to experience what you did in Dansville the other night, and what they got to do tonight. They’ll remember it for the rest of their lives. Sure we want to win, but there’s only going to be one winner. We tip our hat to Romulus tonight.”
The Warriors will take on Prattsburgh Monday in Waterloo for a berth in the Far West Regional.
“They’re a big team,” Nicholson said. “That’s going to be an interesting matchup. They’ve got good size, some good guards. We’re ready.”
No. 2 Jasper-Troupsburg 6 10 13 21 — 50 No. 1 Romulus 24 16 17 16 — 73
JASPER-TROUPSBURG: McKenzie Prutsman 6 5-6 19, Hannah Miles 3 4-6 13, Brittne Hill 1 0-0 2, Chelsea Carl 0 4-6 4, Angel Schoonover 3 0-0 6, Rachel VanFleet 0 1-2 1, Erin Cornish 0 1-2 1, Morgan Leach 2 0-1 4. ROMULUS:?Paola Figueroa 2 0-0 5, Jenny Tompkins 1 2-2 4, Zoe McDonald 3 1-2 4, Cheyenne Howe 4 2-2 11, Breanne Berlin 10 1-2 21, Maegann Mein 3 0-0 6, Jessica Rhone 7 4-6 19. 3-point goals:? J-T?5 (Prutsman 2, Miles 3); Romulus 3 (Figueroa, Howe, Rhone). Fouled out: None.