At ‘height’ of its game, Amelia beats Wakefield in VISAA D-III girls basketball state final
Wakefield's Emily Granruth finished her career Saturday with 15 rebounds, eight points and five assists in a 67-36 loss to Amelia during the VISAA Division III state finals in The Plains. --Times-Democrat Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Blame Finland and Serbia.
Those countries are the source of the 6-foot-4 and 6-2 post players who kept Wakefield from winning its first girls basketball state championship.
Moona Hamalainen and Andrea Anicic led the Amelia Academy Patriots to a 67-36 victory Saturday in the final of the VISAA Division III state tournament in The Plains, ending the Wakefield Owls' 18-game win streak.
Hamalainen, a 6-2 forward from Finland, and Anicic, a 6-4 center from Serbia, combined for 31 points in the paint and also forced Wakefield to score most of its points from the perimeter.
"It's just a lot of pressure on our kids. Every defensive play we had to play pretty much perfectly," Owls coach Paul Sipes said. "Their hands were so high it took every ounce of athleticism for us to just contest a pass" into the post.
At 5-11, Emily Granruth is Wakefield's tallest player. She and many other Owls — Alexis Smith (5-8), Alecys Wallace (5-8) and Kelly Mason (5-5) — tried their hand at guarding Hamalainen and Anicic with help from a sagging man-to-man defense. At times, they defended admirably. They just couldn't sustain the effort for 32 minutes.
Wakefield ended its best season in program history with a 25-7 record and its first appearance in the state final after losing in the semifinals each of the past two seasons.
"We knew that no matter the outcome, it wouldn't diminish this year as a team or our careers," Granruth, a senior, said of losing Saturday. "We set a new standard for Wakefield basketball. … We're the first to get here and there will be more."
Granruth will graduate as the all-time leading scorer in Wakefield history. She had 15 rebounds, eight points, five assists and three steals against Amelia. Mason, also a senior, added nine points and three steals, while sophomore Airielle Jenkins had eight points and three assists, and Smith, a junior, had five points, four steals and two blocks.
"I've had some good teams that I've coached here and at other schools," Sipes said. "This is the best experience I've had coaching in my life."
Meanwhile, Amelia finished with a 27-6 record after losing a similarly lopsided state final last season in the D-III tournament, 70-43, to Williamsburg Christian Academy. Then, for this season, the Patriots added to their roster Hamalainen, Anicic and Tamara Novic, a 6-2 forward from Serbia.
Yes, Wakefield's height disadvantage could have been even more pronounced had Novic not missed the state tournament with a knee injury.
"It's nice to know you have that advantage," Amelia coach Frank Shanaberger said. "If something's not working on offense, we can go to plan B or C."
Hamalainen was plan A-plus. She scored 12 of the Patriots' first 13 points, helping Amelia take a 19-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. However, she left the game with nearly two minutes remaining in the first after committing her second foul and did not return until the third quarter.
The Owls' sigh of relief upon her exit turned into a coughing fit when Anicic stood up off the bench to replace Hamalainen.
"You think you've [succeeded] on one mission," Smith said of getting Hamalainen out of the game. "And then the [next] girl comes in, and she's even taller. It's like waves coming rapid fire."
Hamalainen served as a much better offensive threat and finished with 23 points, but Anicic provided the defensive presence and finished with eight points, eight rebounds, three blocks and countless altered shots. With her on the floor, shooting guard Kristyn Carney and point guard Megan Jacoby supplemented the scoring.
Jacoby finished with 13 assists, 11 points and six steals, while Carney had 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Carney made five 3-pointers against a Wakefield defense that sagged heavily toward the paint in an attempt to address the Patriots' height.
"It gives us a great inside-outside game," Shanaberger said. "It opens up our 3-point shooting."
Amelia's height also helped it out-rebound the Owls, 41-29.
"They're tall, strong, had a good outside shooter and a good point guard," Sipes said. "That makes it really hard to deal with" defensively.
Offensively, too. After trailing 33-18 at halftime and 52-33 at the end of the third quarter, Wakefield scored only three points in the fourth quarter.
Six 3-pointers accounted for much of the Owls' production as Amelia used its long collective reach to cordon off the lane with 2-3 and 3-2 zones.
"We've never played against a team with two or three really long kids. That took us out of our rhythm," Granruth said. "Just, you know, the gigantic height they had in the middle."
The Patriots' diamond full-court press (1-2-1-1) also flustered Wakefield early. It helped produce 23 Owls turnovers and compensated for 20 by Amelia.
"We forced turnovers. For stretches we played as well as we could have played," Sipes said. "I was like, 'This is perfect.' They're diving on loose balls and playing those tall kids up with their hands."
"I can't complain," he said. "These kids have played hard all season. … Amazing season."
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