Hall stands tall against Branch

3 months ago
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MACEDONIA — Everyone wanted to see Laurel’s Saniyah Hall, the No. 3-ranked sophomore in the country. They all left talking about Hall and West Branch senior Sophia Gregory.

The 6-foot-2 All-Ohioans waged an epic battle in which 10th-seeded Shaker Heights Laurel emerged with a 51-39 victory over fourth-seeded West Branch in a Division II district final Saturday afternoon at Nordonia High School.

Hall scored a game-high 29 points and shined on both ends of the court.

“She’s incredible,” Gregory said. “Size, ability and athleticism. We knew how good she was coming in and she was better on the court.”

Gregory said Hall is the best player she has faced.

“We wanted to make her work for her points,” West Branch coach Walt DeShields said. “She’s a really good player. She can do it all.”

Gregory, a Youngstown State recruit, went toe-to-toe with Hall. Gregory accounted for 32 of West Branch’s 39 points — totaling 24 points and four assists with three blocks.

“I thought Sophie did a great job attacking,” DeShields said. “I told her she can play with anybody. You saw it right there and I hope that gives her confidence at Youngstown State.”

Gregory earned the respect from her opponent.

“I hope so, but then again it’s a team game,” she said.

“She is really good and is going to have good career at Youngstown State,” Laurel coach Terrina Robinson said.

Hall outscored Gregory 16-7 in the first half as Laurel took a 26-20 lead.

“I think she took (Gregory) lightly in the first quarter,” Robinson said. “She said, ‘My bad. I’ve got this.’ When she says, ‘My bad’ to me, I know she will make it right.”

Hall scored seven points during an 11-5 run to end the third quarter that gave the Gators a 41-31 lead.

“I thought we had a good chance,” Gregory said. “We wanted to get her in foul trouble and score inside.”

“They’ve got a good girl and we’ve got a good girl,” Robinson said. “If I have to pick one, I’m going to take my girl every time.

“She is really an incredible player. I tell people one of the best things is she is an unselfish player. She showed that today.”

Liv Schneider hit a three-pointer and Hall added a jumper to push the lead to 46-33 with 6:24 to play in the game.

Gregory scored 11 of the Warriors’ last 13 points, but Laurel was effective in running time off the clock. The closest the Warriors got the rest of the way was 46-37 on a Gregory layup with 3:43 remaining.

Only four players scored for the Warriors. Livvie Showalter added nine points, seven coming in the first 3 1/2 minutes, along with 11 rebounds and four steals.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the locker room,” DeShields said. “We’re not going to let this game define us.”

West Branch finishes the season at 23-3. The other losses were to Olmsted Falls (22-3) and Canfield (17-9).

The Warriors will lose five seniors, including starters Chloe Dennison, Showalter and Gregory along with Mikalyn Woods and Brynn Smith.

“It makes it harder to end because it’s never going to be the same,” DeShields said. “I’ve known some of them since they were wee little and it’s tough to let them go.”

Laurel — playing only five sophomores and five freshmen Saturday — improves to 16-10. The Gators will play Gates Mills Gilmour Academy in a regional semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Barberton High School. Laurel lost its season opener to Gilmour, 58-50, on the way to an 0-3 start and five losses in its first seven games.

“We play one of the toughest schedules of all the schools,” Robinson said. “We’ve been fighting. We have freshmen and sophomores.”

The Gators held West Branch to 25 points in the final three quarters and never trailed after Hall and Schneider hit consecutive three-pointers in the second quarter.

“We were talking about controlling what we can control,” Robinson said. “One of those is our defense.”

The Gators have been looking forward to a rematch with Gilmour Academy.

“This is great, but we aren’t done,” Robinson said.
• Hall, who is still 15 years old, has dozens of college offers from all of the nation’s top programs.

“We had Geno Auriemma from UConn at our school last summer,” Robinson said. “It would be easier if I told you who hasn’t talked to her.”
• Asked who the best player West Branch ever played against, DeShields immediately came up with Semeka Randall, who starred in the WNBA. The Warriors beat Randall and Garfield Heights Trinity on the way to the 1997 state semifinals.

“(Hall) is bigger,” DeShields said. “She’s only a sophomore and Semeka was a senior when we played her. (Hall) is going to be good if she keeps working.”
• Hall is listed as 6-foot-0, but is as tall as Gregory.

“I say she is 6-2 and she says she is 6-foot,” Robinson said. “We’re hoping she’s still growing.”
• Gregory will be running track again this spring before beginning offseason workouts at Youngstown State in July.
• Laurel split all five of its two-shot free throws in the second half.
• West Branch had 16 turnovers, including six in the opening 6 1/2 minutes. Laurel had seven turnovers.
• Robinson played basketball for Notre Dame College, an NCAA Division II program near Cleveland, which announced Thursday it will close after the spring semester.

“I’m surprised we made it that long,” she said.

Robinson said she planned to attend Notre Dame’s last home game on Saturday afternoon, until the district championship game was changed from its original night tipoff.

“It’s tough. The toughest part for me is it was the last home game ever and I missed it,” she said. “But this is better.

“Notre Dame prepared me for what I am doing now and I am grateful for that.”…Read more by

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