MINERAL RIDGE - Mackenzie Gatchel picked the ideal time to have the best game of her career.
The junior hit four three-pointers in the first quarter on her way to a career-high 26 points as United repeated as Division III district champions with a 57-33 victory over Champion on Saturday at Mineral Ridge High School.
"I came ready to play today, I guess," Gatchel said. "My shot was on. They kept passing me the ball and I kept shooting them. Today was the best I ever shot."
Gatchel's five total threes were also a career-high. She also led the Eagles (24-2) on the boards with eight rebounds.
United, winners of 16 straight, will try to win its first regional game in school history when it takes on Orrville at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Cuyahoga Falls High School. Orrville, the fourth-ranked team in the final Associated Press state poll, beat Canton Central Catholic 58-51 in a district final on Saturday at Triway High School.
United led the whole way against the Golden Flashes (16-10), but had a bit of a rough go of it with 1:24 left in the first half when Champion sliced what had been a comfortable Eagle lead to three.
A 6-0 run to end the half established enough breathing room to carry United into the second half. The Eagles put the game on ice by outscoring Champion 15-8 in the third quarter.
For United coach Sam Mathias it was his second district title in only his second season as a head coach.
"I'd like to keep it that way if I could," Mathias said.
Mathias said the team's experience-level was one of the key factors which has them back at the same point as they were a year ago.
"I enjoyed how we stayed composed in the first half," Mathias said. "Champion came out playing hard and cut it down to three in the second quarter. Then Sam Spitler hit a big shot and then Emily Zehentbauer hit a three to help us push it to nine at the half."
Zehentbauer, a senior guard, overcame a rough start offensively to finish with 14 points and four steals. Spitler added seven points and seven rebounds.
"This is pretty much the greatest feeling ever," Spitler said. "We work so hard in the summer for this. This is what we wanted and we want to go even further."
Champion, which had only four players score, was hampered by United's defensive pressure from the outset. The Flashes shot 22 percent from the field and turned the ball over 12 times with eight of those coming in the first quarter.
"We didn't turn the ball over too much against a full court press, but the problem we had was their overall size," Champion coach Jeff Thompson said. "They were able to put one or two people on McKenzie Kiser down low and we were a little slow in ball rotation. And of course, we weren't hitting our shots so they just sagged more people on Kiser."
Kiser finished with 13 points. The only other significant offensive contribution for the Flashes came from guard Gabby Lamont who had 15 points.
Two of the Eagles who were tasked with patrolling the paint and keeping the 6-foot Kiser off the glass were seniors Mollie Phillis and Courtney Hydrick. Both players were not a part of last season's run to the regionals.
"It's an exciting feeling," Phillis said. "Coach told the team before the game 'You know the feeling, you've been there.' Well me and Courtney have not, so it was really important for us to get here to experience it."
Phillis she did not attend last season's district final win.
"I got that screaming phone call when they won though," Phillis said.
Of course, this time was much better.
"The whole team aspect of it is wonderful," Phillis said. "We want to keep it going."
CHAMPION: 10- 8- 8- 8-33
UNITED SCORING: Emily Zehentbauer 5-3-14, Sam Spitler 3-0-7, Tara Gray 0-3-3, Sydney Moats 0-0-0, Allison Parks 0-0-0, Mackenzie Gatchel 7-7-26, Cassidy Yoder 0-0-0, MacKenzie Firth 0-0-0, Mollie Phillis 0-1-1, Elle Smith 0-0-0, Kassie Chestnut 0-0-0, Courtney Hydrick 2-0-4, Morgan Smith 0-0-0, Jenna Plummer 1-0-2, Shanna Miller 0-0-0. TOTALS: 18-51, 14-18: 57.
CHAMPION SCORING: Carissa Hurst 0-0-0, Jordyn Skaggs 1-0-3, Haley Foster 0-0-0, Gabby Lamont 4-4-15, Maura Jacobs 0-0-0, Anna Hill 0-0-0, Heather Shaver 0-0-0, Brittany Allen 0-0-0, Kelly Robinson 1-0-2, Emma Nicholas 0-0-0, Mackenzie Kiser 5-3-13. TOTALS: 11-50, 7-13: 33.
Three-pointers: United 7 (Gatchel 5, Spitler, Zehentbauer), Champion 4 (Lamont 3, Skaggs).