AUSTINTOWN - After three consecutive years of heartbreak, the West Branch girls basketball team finally got the monkey off its back.
The stakes were high as both West Branch and Struthers fought for the Division II Austintown district championship Friday and after a hard-battled 32 minutes with 10 lead changes, the Warriors edged the Wildcats in the fourth quarter to get the 47-42 victory and its first district championship in a decade.
"Everybody was working hard because we knew we missed it the first three years by one or two points," senior Taryn Hahn said. "We really knew that we could do it, so we really had to push hard to get it done."
The Warriors (22-4) advance to the Division II regional semifinals for the first time since 2004 won the Div. II state title. West Branch will take on Elyria district champions Parma Heights Holy Name at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday at Barberton High School.
West Branch coach Walt DeShields praised the seniors' patience after three unsuccessful attempts at a district championship, which included a loss to Struthers in 2011 and two consecutive losses to Canfield.
"The seniors had to be on the other side getting silver for three years," DeShields said. "They fought through the last two minutes and played some awesome basketball."
Hahn -one of those four seniors to finally see the gold along with Amanda Linhart, Allie Garrett and Lauren Martig - was relieved to get first place in the district after four tries.
"It took three years to do it, but it's doable," Hahn said. "Not very many people get four chances to even have a chance at a gold medal, so getting it is really nice finally."
The Warriors fought off the see-saw battle with the Wildcats (20-6) where, at best, both teams enjoyed a 5-0 or 6-0 run, and at most six point leads due to strong defenses.
Regardless, contributions from junior Melinda Trimmer along with Hahn and Linhart made the difference. Trimmer led the Warriors with 24 points, followed by Linhart with eight points and Hahn's six-point, 10-rebound contribution.
"Melinda's made some great plays for us tonight," DeShields said. "Taryn Hahn didn't start out that great, but she played really strong in the second half. Linhart knocking down those threes counteracted what (Struthers senior) McKenna Shives had to offer."
Shives was relied upon the most for the Wildcats and the senior came through with 13 points.
Although Struthers coach John Grandy expressed disappointment in the final outcome, he's not hanging his head.
"Both teams are good teams, I'm proud of my girls with the way we performed," Grandy said. "These kids were prepared, but it came down to a loss. We needed a basket, we didn't get it. They needed a basket and got it. It's simple, but it's the way it went."
Ashley Ryan also had a strong contribution for the Wildcats with 10 points and eight rebounds, and Brittany Zupko had five points and eight rebounds.
"We just got to focus on the next practice and the next game, and then we'll get it going," Hahn said.
A total of 10 lead changes took place during the game.
West Branch and Struthers both defeated Salem earlier this season.
W. BRANCH: 10-12- 8-17-47
STRUTHERS SCORING: Ashleigh Ryan 4-1-10, Mckenna Shives 5-0-13, Brittany Zupko 1-3-5, Ashley Kane 2-1-7, Halie Smrek 2-0-5, Caitlin Kane 0-0-0, Holly Kane 0-0-0, Preshus Brown 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 15, 5-10: 42.
W. BRANCH SCORING: Melinda Trimmer 7-7-24, Pavin Heath 1-0-3, Amanda Linhart 3-0-8, Taryn Hahn 1-4-6, Erica Johnson 1-1-3, Emily Menegay 0-0-0, Lea Bock 1-1-3, Kaylee Manning 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 14, 13-22: 47.
Three-point goals: Struthers 7 (Shives 3, Kane 2, Ryan, Smrek), West Branch 6 (Trimmer 3, Linhart 2, Heath).