OLD FORT — It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Castalia.
Shortly after Margaretta coach Tim Tucker’s team finished opening its presents over the holidays, the veteran coach already had turned his focus to the state tournament.
That preparation led to more gifts Thursday in a Division III district semifinal at Old Fort High School, as Margaretta used a sharp-shooting first half to beat New London, 57-39.
“We were growing with our young ladies,” Tucker said. “We started preparing for the tournament over Christmas and started working on things and set certain goals to improve on to be ready for the tournament.
“I’ve always put more emphasis on this time of the year. We look at using 20 games to get better.”
The win improves Margaretta to 9-14 overall. New London finished the season 14-8.
It’s the first three-game winning streak of the season for Margaretta, and guaranteed the Polar Bears district hardware as they will take on Western Reserve (21-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the championship game.
Margaretta beat Western in the 2005 district title game, 58-39.
“We scrimmaged them over the summer, and this is the best team coach (Brenda) Friend has ever had there,” Tucker said of Western Reserve. “They are the clear-cut best team in the district and have been all year. She has some great leaders on her team.
“But, it’s one game on any given night. At least we’re still playing a game Saturday. Our girls haven’t been here before as players, but they’ve been here as fans many times through the years and know what it’s like.”
Margaretta raced out to a 19-7 lead with 2:57 left in the opening quarter, but New London answered with three consecutive baskets to pull to within 19-13. The Wildcats then had two straight opportunities to pull within 19-15 in the waning seconds of the quarter but didn’t convert. That was the game’s turning point.
The Polar Bears got back-to-back scores from Sarah Weyer and Jessica Napka to open the second quarter to go up 23-13, and it rolled from there as the Bears forced 14 first-half turnovers and built the lead to 37-17 with 2:28 left in the half.
For the half, Margaretta shot 17 of 30 from the floor.
“It was our first time we’ve reached this level since I’ve been here, and they came out strong,” New London coach Greg Vogelsong said. “One thing we always preach is, we don’t want to react to what happens on the floor. We want to create, and that didn’t happen tonight.
“We had more turnovers in the first half tonight than we have in probably our last eight or nine games. That was devastating for us.”
New London managed to get within 48-36 with 6:09 left and again had two straight chances to get the margin to 10 points or less, but Margaretta was able to re-extend its margin.
Tucker wasn’t pleased with the second half, however. Margaretta had a 20-18 scoring edge in the final two quarters.
“I thought we were passive in the second half after a very aggressive first half,” he said. “We played just to get the game over with in the second half, and we can’t do that at this point of the season.”
One question that was up in air after the game was the health of Weyer. The sophomore scored a game-high 21 points on 10 of 15 shooting, but went down with a back injury with 3:44 left in the game. Tucker indicated it was too early to tell the extent of the injury.
Tatum Tucker added 10 points for Margaretta while New London got 18 points and 12 rebounds from junior Megan Thomas.