By MICHAEL GRECO
Reflector Sports Editor
COLLINS — With each step in the tournament, the stakes get higher.
The Western Reserve girls’ basketball team has already captured sectional and district titles.
Will the regional championship follow?
That will be determined starting at 1:30 p.m. Saturday when the Lady Roughriders take on Findlay Liberty-Benton at Lexington High School.
Liberty-Benton, which ended the season as the Division III top-ranked team in the state, is 24-0 on the season.
They downed Defiance Tinora 35-25 in Tuesday’s regional semifinal at Ohio Northern University. The Eagles survived a slow start and started to open the game up in the second 16 minutes.
Liberty-Benton has also topped Lakota 86-18, Ottawa Hills 60-38 and finally Millbury Lake 39-29 for the Whitehouse district title.
“Probably the word is I would use is discipline,’’ Western coach Brenda Friend said. “They are well-coached. They’re like North Union (the Lady Roughriders’ regional semifinal opponent) in that they’re guard oriented.
“They’re also more disciplined with their shot selection,’’ the coach added. “I think we match up with their guards.’’
Liberty-Benton is led Amanda Hyde, a 5-foot-10 senior who was named the Division III northwest district Player of the Year earlier this week. She is averaging 21.8 points per game.
Caite Craft, a 5-8 sophomore putting in 17.3 points per outing, is a second-team all-district choice.
“We have to be prepared for their press,’’ Friend said. “They play the same style we like to play. At this point, you have to be more disciplined. We have to play straight up man defense and be fundamentally sound.’’
Liberty Benton reached the state tournament last season, falling in the semifinals to eventual champion South Euclid Regina, 59-30.
The Lady Roughriders, even though they were challenged by North Union before prevailing 45-37, are entering another new territory.
“I didn’t feel pressure against North Union,’’ Friend said. “I felt my team was loose, so when they got on the floor they played.’’
Western jumped out to an 11-point midway through the second quarter.
North Union brought the deficit down to three points twice in the second half, but couldn’t get over the hump.
“When you’re playing a team like that, you always know it’s coming,’’ Friend said. “You have to weather the storm. When that started to happen, there was some physical play.
“Rarely did we make a mistake on defense,’’ she added. “We used our timeouts wisely and responded when we had to. I think the key is that we didn’t give up the lead.’’
Western had a 19-3 free-throw advantage.
“The further you go, that’s just how it goes,’’ Friend said of the physical game. “Both teams are used to being successful. When you get to this level, the key is balance.’’
Friend was pleased with the fans.
“Our crowd was going crazy,’’ she said. “I think that was even more important and our kids fed off that.’’
Friend is enjoying the ride.
“I wish every coach can experience this,’’ she said. “We have four seniors (Francesca Dore’, Jessica McHenry, Erica Jenkins and Casey Molesky).”
But the goal is to not stop Saturday.
“My kids don’t think they’re going to lose,’’ Friend said. “We’re just not here for fun.”
The Western-Liberty Benton winner will reach the state tournament. The Division III state semifinal games are at 1 and 3 p.m. Thursday at Value City Arena in Columbus.