AUSTINTOWN - West Branch has set up the rematch it has desired for a year.
With a 45-40 victory over Poland on Thursday night at Austintown Fitch High School, West Branch (23-2) advances to the Division II district championship.
The Warriors will face Canfield, whom they lost to 42-40 on a last-second bucket in the 2012 district final.
"We're honored to be here," West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. "We've beaten Canfield two out of the last three times we've played them, but both have come in the regular season. Now we have to prove something in the tournament."
West Branch initially struggled to put away the Bulldogs as each teams had identical quarters in the first half to create a 20-20 halftime score. The Warriors' defense, however, would step up in the third quarter, holding Poland to just one bucket - a three-pointer by junior Korinna Sherman - and giving West Branch a 29-23 lead.
Though Poland responded with a 17-point fourth quarter, the Warriors used free throw shooting to their advantage. West Branch shot 9 for 11 from the foul line in the final frame, including 8-for-8 from sophomore Melinda Trimmer.
"(Trimmer's) points really help out down the stretch," DeShields said. "She's our go-to free throw shooter."
Many of Poland's offensive woes revolved around foul trouble. Senior Rachaell Robinson scored 11 points but fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Liz Suess, also a senior, was benched for several minutes in the third and fourth quarters due to fouls. She contributed eight points and six rebounds.
With so many fouls, Trimmer was able to carry her team through the fourth quarter.
"I practice free throws a lot," said Trimmer. "It's all about staying focused and calm."
West Branch junior Amanda Linhart contributed eight points, while senior Brittany Bryte also added eight.
For Poland, sophomore Aleah Hughes led the team in scoring with 12 points.
West Branch will face Canfield (24-1) at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the district final at Austintown Fitch High School.
West Branch handed Canfield its only regular season loss this year, 59-52, on Dec. 5. Still, last year's district championship loss was fresh on West Branch's mind.
"We're rivals because of it," Trimmer said. "It was heartbreaking, losing on that last shot."
W. BRANCH:? 11-9-9-16 45
POLAND:? 11-9-3-17 40
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Brittany Bryte 3-0-8, Kyla Sharp 0-0-0, Melinda Trimmer 4-8-16, Pavin Heath 2-1-5, Amanda Linhart 3-2-8, Taryn Hahn 2-1-6, Lea Bock 0-0-0. TOTALS: 14, 14-19: 45.
POLAND SCORING: Korinna Sherman 1-0-3, Libby Rubesa 0-0-0, Liz Suess 4-0-8, Kathryn Wilson 0-0-0, Rachaell Robertson 3-2-11, Marissa Trevis 0-0-0, Theodora Constantine 0-0-0, Kasie Serich 2-0-6, Phoebe Bush 0-0-0, Aleah Hughes 3-6-12. TOTALS: 13, 8-10: 40
Three-pointers: West Branch 3 (Bryte 2, Hahn) Poland 6 (Robertson 3, Serich 2, Sherman).
STRUTHERS:?13-15- 7-19 54
CANFIELD:? 15-14-14-18 61
STRUTHERS SCORING: Ashleigh Ryan 2-2-7, Ashlen Hefferon 3-1-7, Caitlin Kane 0-0-0, McKenna Shives 5-3-16, Araceli Perez 2-0-5, Brittany Zupko 4-9-17, Zosia Thomas 0-0-0, Ashley Kane 0-0-0, Halle Smrek 1-0-2 TOTALS: 17, 15-20: 54.
CANFIELD SCORING: Paige Baker 0-2-2, Kayla Barko 5-0-10, Lynnae Whitehead 0-3-3, Abby Baker 2-4-10, Rachel Tinkey 7-3-17, Crissy Gelonese 0-0-0, Allison Pavlansky 3-1-7, Sabrina Mangapora 6-0-12 TOTALS: 23, 15-20: 61.
Three-pointers: Struthers 5 (Shiver 3, Ryan, Perez) Canfield 2 (Baker 2).