Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON C.H. — Miami Trace’s Magarah Bloom had evidently seen enough on Thursday.
Bloom was uncharacteristically rather quiet throughout the first three quarters of a Division II sectional final against Unioto. She had scored just two points while her Panthers were allowing the Shermans to hang around.
But in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Bloom delivered a jab, a right hook and the knockout blow.
The senior guard scored nine consecutive points in the first minute and 39 seconds to stretch her team’s lead to 15 points. Unioto never recovered and the Panthers put away a 44-30 win while adding a sectional crown to their resume — the program’s sixth straight and seventh in nine years.
“Just really proud of our kids,” Miami Trace coach Ben Ackley said. “I thought all three of our seniors played well tonight. They had big moments in the game. Gracee Stewart had a big assist late, Delaney Eakins made some big shots for us and had some timely rebounds and Magarah just put us on her back for about a three-minute stretch where she scored nine straight. We know she’s capable of doing that.”
While that trio provided needed fireworks, the team as a whole dominated the glass. Miami Trace won the rebounding battle by a 36-16 margin, limiting Unioto’s chances on the offensive end and giving itself a clear advantage throughout all 32 minutes.
“I thought we did a good job on the glass and got some timely offensive rebounds and put backs,” Ackley said. “We did a good job for the most part of limiting Unioto to one shot. We struggle rebounding the ball at times. But tonight, we were pretty solid.”
The win comes after a flurry — quite literally — of snow that’s impeded the Panthers’ ability to be in a gym. In fact, the team hadn’t been able to practice since their last regular season contest against Hillsboro, which took place this past Saturday.
“It was a gritty performance and I thought our kids toughed it out tonight. We haven’t been in a gym since this past Saturday. So we knew the conditioning was going to be rough,” Ackley said. “We knew we wouldn’t shoot it well. So we had to hope our kids’ mental fortitude and their ‘want to’ was enough tonight.”
Just 25 seconds into the action, Unioto’s Ameris Betts gave the Shermans a 3-0 lead with a deep splash. Miami Trace’s Hillery Jacobs followed suit on the other end before Unioto’s Alexis Book answered with a triple of her own, making it a 6-3 score with 5:31 to play.
Bloom and Gracee Stewart then combined to tie the game before Jacobs gave the Panthers their first lead of the night at 8-6 with 2:47 left. However, Avery Miller and Paris DeBord logged back-to-back buckets to end the quarter, putting the Shermans up 10-8 after the first.
Jacobs and Eakins opened the second with consecutive buckets, giving Miami Trace a 12-10 lead, before Jacobs scored again to force a Unioto timeout. That edge was extended to 21-14 before Miller hit a 3 with 1:23 remaining, cutting the deficit to 21-17 at halftime.
Unioto continued to stay within three to six points in the third while neither offense could find a rhythm. Miller cut the lead to 21-18 with one of two free throws before Jacobs dialed long distance, followed by a pair of free throws from Stewart. Book ended the quarter’s scoring with a runner at the 2:09 mark, making it a 26-20 tally.
And that’s when Bloom took matters into her own hands.
She scored at the 7:47, 7:21, 6:05 and 6:21 marks to give the Panthers a 35-20 lead. From there, it was smooth sailing to a sectional crown.
“The fact that Unioto is so young was a big advantage to us,” Ackley said. “We start three seniors and we’ve got some upperclassmen who have been in big games like this before. You have to be in them and learn. But Unioto gave us all we wanted. It was ugly. It was gritty. But that’s what this group is. They simply get it done.”
Miller led the Shermans statistically with 10 points and four rebounds while Betts had eight points. Book also chipped in with five points and a pair of assists.
Jacobs turned in a game-high 12 points while Bloom added 11 points and eight rebounds. Stewart had seven points and two assists, and Pitstick finished with six points and four assists.
Unioto’s postseason run is now over but the Shermans will play a rescheduled regular season contest against Southeastern on Saturday. Miami Trace now looks towards a trip to top-seeded Sheridan in a Division II district semifinal. That game is scheduled for 7 p.m., Tuesday.
“This is something to be proud of,” Ackley said. “These girls are putting themselves in the conversation of some of the better teams that have ever come through here. That’s always exciting. But Sheridan is so big and strong at every position. They’re well-coached as well. We’ll have to shoot the ball really well and we’ll have to value the ball a lot better than we did tonight.”
Unioto: 10-7-3-10 — 30
Miami Trace: 8-13-5-18 — 44
Unioto: 9-38 FG, 4-22 FT, 8-14 3pt., 16 rebounds (Miller 4, Wheeler 4), 20 turnovers, 5 assists (Book 2). Scoring: Miller 10, Betts 8, Book 5, Wheeler 2, DeBord 2, Paul 2, Coleman 1.
Miami Trace: 15-38 FG, 11-19 FT, 3-12 3pt., 36 rebounds (Bloom 8), 27 turnovers, 7 assists (Pitstick 3). Scoring: Jacobs 12, Bloom 11, Stewart 7, Pitstick 6, Aleshire 4, Eakins 4.