MINERVA-Midway through the fourth quarter after sprawling for a loose ball, West Branch forward Erica Johnson got up nursing a slight limp, but also sporting a half-grin, as if to accept the bruises as a worthy price for another possession saved.
On a night when the Warriors got off to a cold shooting start, Johnson hurled herself around the floor, hauling in a season-high 15 rebounds to go with seven points and three steals as West Branch patiently fended off Minerva 53-39 Wednesday.
"That's my role on this team," Johnson said. "We have other players who can score and my goal is to give them as many chances with my rebounding."
Melinda Trimmer had a game high 24 points and four assists and Pavin Heath had eight points as the Warriors overcame a third quarter deficit to improve to 17-4 overall and 12-2 in the Northeastern Buckeye Conference, finishing out the conference season in second place behind Carrollton. Minerva falls to 11-9 overall and 6-7 in the NBC.
"Minerva played us tough for most of the night, but our girls didn't get flustered when things weren't going our way," West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. "Erica was all over the place tonight. Every time I thought Minerva was there to get a rebound all of a sudden there she was to get a hand on it. She attacked the ball wherever it was."
The Warriors needed Johnson's rebounding effort. She gave the offense several second and third chances, as the Warriors struggled hitting shots for the first two and a half quarters.
"The more shots you get eventually you will cash in on some," DeShields said. "All of the second chances wore them (Minerva) down a little bit."
Senior guard Josie Chaddock led Minerva with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Morgan Preston and Lauren Haynam each had eight points. The Lions were able to find some success penetrating to the basket and led 28-25 late in the third quarter.
"We thought we had them with their backs against the wall," Minerva coach Heather Frigyes said. "We played aggressive and tough but just couldn't keep the momentum."
From there West Branch turned it on and didn't let up. Frequent trips to the foul line allowed the Warriors to set up their defense and force a string of turnovers to seize control. Johnson had two steals during that stretch and gave West Branch a 12-point lead with her first and only field goal of the night.
"We knew that was the key moment in the game for us," Johnson said. They were feeling confident and we had to finish."
The Warriors venture to South Range for a marquee non-conference game on Monday before preparing for the tournament.
West Branch won the jayvee game 40-8. Catie Hahn had 11 points for the Warriors.
In the last 10 minutes of action, West Branch scored 28 points after scoring 25 up to that point.
"We did a better job of making the extra pass late in the game and I think that got everybody excited and gave the girls more confidence," DeShields said. "Hopefully that stretch can get us going for the rest of the year."
West Branch held Minerva to just two field goals in the fourth quarter.
""We threw a little bit of everything Minerva defensively and I think it confused them," DeShields said. "We were able to contest their shots much better and get the rebounds."
Minerva began the conference schedule 2-5, but is 4-2 in the second half.
"We have six seniors, but that's a little deceiving because most of them were role players last year," Frigyes said. "In the second half things have started to click. We are playing our best ball right now."
WEST BRANCH: 13-10-8-22-53
WEST BRANCH SCORING: Melinda Trimmer 8-7-24, Pavin Heath 4-2-10, Amanda Linhart 2-3-7, Lea Bock 1-0-2, Erica Johnson 1-5-7, Emily Menegay 0-0-0, Taryn Hahn 0-0-0, Kaylee Manning 1-0-3, Allie Garrett 0-0-0, Paige Walsh 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 17-27: 53.
MINERVA SCORING: Lauren Haynam 1-6-8, Tiffany Jones 1-0-2, Morgan Preston 3-2-8, Josie Chaddock 4-3-11, Shania Miller 2-0-4, Alexa Bates 0-0-0, Logan Pottorf 2-0-4, Bri Gassman 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 14, 11-18: 39.
Three-point goals: West Branch 2 (Trimmer, Manning).