KIRTLAND—Despite its No. 3 seed, the Kirtland girls’ basketball team had to be considered the underdog in Wednesday’s Division III sectional semifinal against visiting Wellington, the No. 10 seed. After all, the Hornets were playing without senior captain Taylor Somodji, the team’s leader in nearly every statistical category.
Kirtland’s defense rose to the challenge and the Hornets advanced to Saturday’s sectional championship game with a 47-39 win.
“We were in a situation where I didn’t know what was going to happen because they’ve never had to play without Taylor,” said Kirtland coach Bob Bell. “This was totally new to them. We talked about stepping up because when you take your leading scorer, leading rebounder, leader in assists and steals off the floor, it changes things. “
Sophomore Sydney Snyder and senior Deanna Ponzani led the way offensively.
Snyder scored a game-high 17 points and Ponzani pitched in with a career-high 15 in the win. Kerri Zalba added seven points for the Hornets and Katie McCollister had four.
“It felt good to be able to pull through such a highly stressful and intense game, especially without Taylor,” Ponzani said. “Normally, I don't drive and shoot as much as I did so I'm just happy I was able to make some plays and contribute to an important win.”
The Hornets were at their best in the closing minutes of each quarter.
They ended the first quarter on a 6-0 run and the second on a 5-0 run to take a 19-12 lead at halftime.
Kirtland used the same formula in the second half.
“We were switching our defenses up a little bit and we were putting more pressure on them at the end of the quarters,” Bell said. “We’d go from half court pressure to full court pressure and I think that was what it really was all about. We just got a few steals that turned into easy baskets.”
Snyder almost single-handedly put away the Dukes in the fourth quarter.
Wellington’s Logan Simmons converted an and-one to pull the Dukes to within, 33-31, but Snyder scored five straight points to extend Kirtland’s lead. She finished the quarter with 10 of her 17 points.
Without Somodji, the Hornets had trouble converting on the offensive end.
That’s where the defense stepped up by creating several fast break opportunities.
“Had we not been able to score from our defense we wouldn’t have been able to score,” Bell said. “We just weren’t scoring in our half court defense. It just wasn’t happening. Thank goodness we did play good defense. That’s what our intent was.”
Kirtland will host Trinity in Saturday’s Division III sectional championship game .Tip-off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.