Lady Dragons lead Slippery Rock wire-to-wire, capture second District 10 crown in program history
MEADVILLE, Pa. – Warren coach Lisa LaVan and sophomore guard Kelsey Stuart embraced on the bench, while the five Warren Lady Dragons on the court – Margo Loutzenhiser, Alanna Hultberg, Taylor Childress, Emma Ruhlman and Riley Childress, couldn’t contain their smiles, just waiting for the final seconds to tick off the clock.
Once the clock reached triple zeros, players and coaches alike were able to fully celebrate the second District 10 title in program history, a wire-to-wire 59-44 win over Slippery Rock in the 5A championship game at Meadville’s House of Thrills on Saturday evening.
“Accomplished is the biggest thing that comes to mind,” Loutzenhiser said. “This has been our goal since the beginning of practices in the summer.”
It was a dominant run through an extremely talented 5A playoff field for the Lady Dragons (22-3), with each win coming by double digits.
“This whole run, they’ve just been locked in,” LaVan said.
This one, however, was the most impressive of them all.
Leading by only five going into the fourth quarter, Warren outscored Slippery Rock (19-5) 18-8 in the final eight minutes.
No late-game dramatics were necessary as the lead swelled to 17, letting the Lady Dragons simply soak in every moment of this latest masterpiece.
“I don’t remember, did we make a run?,” LaVan said with a smile about the fourth quarter. “They were running that 2-man trap. The biggest thing is staying calm, but at the same time pushing it and going after it. This team just loves to play. They want to be able to go, to look for each other. You know, Margo draws so much attention, she’s become an absolute phenomenal passer. She trusts her teammates, every single one of them that’s on the floor. She did a great job of finding Emma, finding Riley.”
Much more than just a scorer, Loutzenhiser adjusted to Slippery Rock’s defense early in the game.
A Taylor Childress layup made it 5-0, but early foul trouble to both Ruhlman (she picked up a charge just five seconds into the game), as well as Loutzenhiser, forced Warren to switch it up a bit.
Seven of the first nine foul calls of the game were offensive fouls.
After that, Loutzenhiser began to utilize her mid-range game, pulling up instead of drive all the way in, exploiting the Rockets’ game plan.
“Once I got my first one, I knew I had to make that adjustment,” she said. “Lisa said it, and it was obvious, but we all needed to make that adjustment and I think we did a good job with that.”
While Warren was saddled with foul trouble, Slippery Rock’s Maryann Ackerman picked up her third late in the first quarter and had to sit out the rest of the half.
Naturally, that would mean that Emma McDermott, Rock’s lone senior starter, Mercyhurst signee and co-leading scorer on the season along with Ackerman, would have to step up.
She couldn’t, and that had everything to do with Riley Childress.
The gifted freshman bottled up the 6-foot senior all day to the tune of zero points, just the second time in the last two season’s that has happened to McDermott.
To say it was impressive would be an understatement.
“I just worked through screens and didn’t let her shoot,” Childress said.
Added LaVan: “Riley just has that knack about her. She’s so quick. She stays with people. On top of that quickness, she’s just always reading things. She reads so well. I think people have come to realize she is a great defender and she does a really nice job with it.”
Warren led by as many as 10 in the first half on a pair of Loutzenhiser free throws early in the second quarter.
Slippery Rock cut it to 4 on a Hallie Raabe three inside of a minute, but for the second time in as many quarters, the freshman Childress nailed a 3 just before the buzzer, the latter of which gave Warren a 28-21 halftime lead.
It was a special night not just for the team as a whole, but for the Childress sisters, who got to share in bringing the title home.
“The feeling of winning is great,” said Taylor, a junior. “I’m so proud of my sister. This is what she does. She loves basketball. She wants to play in college. I’m beyond happy for her to experience this.”
Every time Slippery Rock tried to make a run in the second half, Warren had an answer, including a big bucket by Hultberg after the Rockets had scored the first four points of the second half to cut the lead to three.
Hultberg, a leader known for doing all the little things, has also stepped up big on the offensive end in the last two playoff victories.
“You just have to know when to pick it up,” she said.
Added LaVan: “Alanna was an animal.”
It was the Ackerman show in the second half for Slippery Rock. She scored all 15 points in the third quarter for her team on her way to a team-high 17, including a pair of free throws to end a third quarter in which Slippery Rock kept itself within striking distance.
Leading 41-36 going in the fourth, the Lady Dragons could see the finish line, however, and they sprinted to it.
Childress’ third triple of the game extended the lead to 10, before fellow standout freshman Emma Ruhlman scored four consecutive buckets underneath, three of which were assisted by Loutzenhiser.
After scoring just one point in the first half with foul trouble, Ruhlman exploded for 16 in the second, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.
“It was kind of rough,” Ruhlman said about the start of the game. “It was right at the beginning so you have to be careful and maybe start playing a little passive. I just knew I had to do everything I could to help my team from the bench. Going into the second half I just had to help any way I could.”
Ruhlman also credited teammate Teagan Paris for stepping up and playing big minutes in the first half.
As the clock ticked down, the Lady Dragons smelled blood. It’s been part of a trend during this playoff run, as they hold a plus-32 point differential in the second half during the three wins.
“They’re cold-blooded, every single one of them,” LaVan said. “They’re just Lady Dragons. “I think they know (how good they are), but I don’t think they really care. They wanted to win, they wanted this more than anything. The biggest thing is, they love being in the gym together, they love being around each other. I’m so happy we get at least another week and we hope we can take it as long as we can. We’re having a lot of fun doing it.”
They will get that chance, with a date against Oakland Catholic, the No. 4 seed from the WPIAL, in the first round of the state playoffs, Saturday at 3 p.m. at Edinboro University.
It’s a program that is family-first, created by culture and care.
“Family first. We talk about that all the time,” LaVan said. “We have each other’s backs. We bicker, we’re like any family, we fight a little bit. We just take care of each other and work hard. It’s a society of give me it, I need it, I deserve that – no. I think that’s something we instill in our kids. You’re not given it. You have to work for it, you have to get after it. And this group does it. They love it. Everybody has accepted their roles. I wish more teams could experience this. It’s unbelievable.”
NOTES: Loutzenhiser finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds … Ruhlman had 11 rebounds to go along with her 17 points … Riley Childress had 4 steals to go along with her 12 points.
Loutzenhiser 6-8-10-20, Hultberg 4-0-0-8, T. Childress 1-0-0-2, R. Childress 3-3-4-12, Ruhlman 8-1-2-17, Stuart 0-0-0-0, Paris 0-0-0-0, Totals 22-12-16-59
SLIPPERY ROCK (44)
Em. McDermott 0-0-0-0, Raabe 4-1-2-11, Ackerman 6-2-2-17, Kadlubek 2-1-2-6, El. McDermott 2-0-0-4, McCoy 1-4-4-6,
Warren 14 14 13 18 – 59
Slippery Rock 7 14 15 8 – 44
Three-point FGs: Warren (3) – R. Childress 3; Slippery Rock (6) – Ackerman 3, Raabe 2, Kadlubek