John Bruce, Staff Writer
FRANKFORT — After an uncharacteristic 2020-2021 season, Unioto’s girls basketball team is back to where it feels most comfortable — atop of the Scioto Valley Conference.
Coach Jeff Miller’s Shermans returned all five starters from last season’s 9-13 squad, but even the most optimistic person wouldn’t have predicted a perfect 8-0 start to their season.
Unioto’s eighth, and most important, win this season came on Thursday in a 55-40 decision over previously unbeaten Adena — a victory that moves the Shermans into the driver’s seat of the SVC title race.
“Last year was tough if you’re looking at wins and losses,” Miller said. “We were playing a lot of young kids and the growth those kids have made from last year to this year is phenomenal. I can’t pinpoint what that is, whether it be a maturity thing or whatnot. But we’ve worked really hard to improve our game overall. Defensively, we’re bringing a lot of energy every night. We may not be the most skilled team but we will play defense.”
By deploying an aggressive defense and a high-flying offensive attack, the Shermans (8-0, 5-0 SVC) have gotten off to their best start in years. On Thursday, those two ingredients made up the the recipe to a win over the defending league champs.
Tale of the tape
The Warriors (5-1, 4-1 SVC) were able to get out to a quick start as senior Makaela Lovely splashed a corner 3, followed by a fast break layup. Unioto’s Amelia Uhrig answered with a pair of buckets inside as both teams were feeling one another out in the early going.
The Shermans turned the Warriors over repeatedly in the opening stanza, but shot a poor percentage, keeping Adena within striking range. The Warriors’ Sydney Ater came off the bench to answer Lovely’s hot start with a layup and 3-pointer of her own. But Unioto finished the quarter with a 14-10 lead, led by Uhrig’s eight points.
The Tanks appeared to be in major foul trouble for the second consecutive game, as forwards Avery Miller and Carissa Wheeler each picked up two first quarter whistles. However, the team’s outstanding depth kept them ahead while Wheeler sat and Miller played less aggressively.
Senior Karlee Renner and junior Addison Mohan came off the bench and provided an immediate spark. Mohan scored eight first half points, while her and Renner combined to force a bevy of turnovers.
“It’s priceless for us,” Miller said of his bench. “When you’re talking about high-energy kids coming off the bench, three or four minutes into the game, and you’re talking about two of them very, very high-energy, it’s huge. A lot of times, that’s when you’re catching your opponent subbing out. A lot times, we get the matchups we like at that point.”
The Shermans pushed their lead to as large as seven multiple times in the quarter, but each time the Warriors showed why they are the league’s defending champ.
Emma Garrison and Jadyn Smith answered Sherman runs with imperative baskets to keep the game tight. Garrison’s deep trey got the Warriors to within 25-20 before Uhrig connected on a deep two at the buzzer to give the Shermans a 27-20 halftime lead.
As the teams came out of the locker room, neither was able to get an advantage or immediately see a shot fall.
That all changed when Caelan Miner buried a 3, followed by baskets from Garrison and Smith to make it a 30-27 game halfway through the third. The Warriors were forcing Unioto turnovers and playing an efficient brand of offense to get back in the game.
Adena finally got its first lead since the opening quarter when Garrison picked off a pass in the backcourt before hitting a tight spin move for a nifty left-handed layup to go ahead 31-30.
That lead would last all of one possession with Unioto’s Alexis Book hitting a tough floater in transition to give the Shermans the lead for good with 2:10 to play in the third. An Avery Miller steal and layup pushed the lead to 34-31 as the squads headed into the final eight minutes.
For Miller, the fourth quarter gave him a chance to show off the team’s depth.
That depth came from little-used sophomore Jozie Zickafoose. Zickafoose, who has shown a knack for making key plays in her little varsity time, made another monster play for the Shermans. Following a missed 3, she found a crease and pulled down an offensive rebound for a put back basket to put the Tanks up 36-31 in the fourth.
“She’s hit some big shots for us,” Miller said. “She hit a big 3 at Huntington and she hit another one tonight. She doesn’t play a lot of minutes but I can tell you, whether it be one, three or five minutes, you’re going to get a lot of energy out of Jozie Zickafoose, too.”
Following Zickafoose’s key play, it would be another sophomore who ultimately hit the dagger for the Shermans. Amaris Betts, who came into the game averaging 14 points per game, was struggling mightily, but would go undeterred when Book hit her on the right wing in front of the Shermans’ bench.
The lefty stepped into a deep 3 and buried it, and essentially the Warriors, with 4:45 to play.
Avery Miller then did what she does best — put the game on ice. Miller buried a three of her own, along with a pair of free throws and three fourth quarter assists, all while running the point for her Shermans.
“She’s played a lot of basketball and with a lot of good players through our system,” Miller said. “Avery could play five positions. It’s a luxury to have a kid with such a high IQ and one that can play every position on the floor. We wouldn’t trade her for anyone.”
Uhrig led all scorers with 17 points alongside six rebounds while Miller added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Tanks. Mohan added eight points for Unioto while Book and Betts each had six apiece.
Garrison led the Warriors with 15 points, including 10 in the second half as she made several big plays to keep Adena within striking distance. Ater finished with eight points and Smith had six points, four rebounds and three assists.
What’s on tap
Each team returns to action on Monday. The Shermans will travel to Jackson that evening while the Warriors host McClain in non-league play.
Unioto: 14-13-7-21 — 55
Adena: 10-10-11-11 — 42
Unioto: 23-51 FG, 5-10 FT, 4-14 3pt., 33 rebounds (Miller 10), 24 turnovers, 12 assists (Miller 6). Scoring: Uhrig 17, Miller 13, Mohan 8, Book 6, Betts 6, Renner 3, Zickafoose 2.
Adena: 16-51 FG, 7-17 FT, 5-19 3pt., 40 rebounds (Foglesong 8), 28 turnovers, 9 assists (Smith 3). Scoring: Garrison 15, S. Ater 8, Smith 6, Williams 5, Maka. Lovely 5, Miner 3.