SPENCERVILLE — Wapakoneta Redskins varsity girls basketball coach Rusty Allen figured all his team needed at halftime was a little pep talk.
So he gave them one.
“There were a few choice words, I guess, in the lockerroom,” Allen said. “I think they understood what needed to be done.”
It seemed to work.
The Redskins overcame a sluggish start with a strong third-quarter effort to pull away to a 53-31 win over the Elida Bulldogs in a Division II sectional semifinal Wednesday at Spencerville High School.
Wapak (11-10) advanced to the sectional title game against the top-seeded Bath Wildkittens at 8 p.m. Saturday at Spencerville.
Elida, which had no seniors and just one junior on its roster, finished its season at 4-17.
Clinging to a narrow 18-16 halftime lead, the Redskins outscored Elida 20-6 in the third quarter, including an 11-0 run, to take a 38-22 lead after three quarters.
“[At halftime] I said we can’t lose [focus] going into the third quarter,” Elida coach Deb Stetler. “Sometimes we have a tendency to. I understand. They were excited, down two at halftime. They’re freshman and sophomores. I would be excited too.”
After committing nine turnovers in the first half, the Redskins didn’t turn the ball over once in the third quarter.
“The big thing we stressed was just more ball movement offensively,” Allen said. “I just felt like we were settling for one or two passes and taking the shot. Not to say they were sometimes bad shots. We just felt we could break their defense down a little bit more by just getting the ball reversed.”
Wapak had to make its run without the services of senior point guard Tasha Helmstetter, who strained her right wrist diving for a ball early in the third quarter. Helmstetter, who is left-handed, returned in the final moments of the quarter, but was in obvious pain and eventually returned to the bench.
The Redskins are already missing Amy Hume, who is out for the rest of the season with a broken foot, leaving senior Mallory McDevitt to handle to point-guard duties should Helmstetter not be able to play.
“There toward the end of the game, we would have liked to have Mal come off the floor the last three of four minutes just to give her a break,” Allen said. “But that’s our backup point guard, well, really our third backup because our backup is running it right now with Tasha.”
The first quarter of play was an ugly affair as the two team combined for nine turnovers before either converted a field goal.
Wapak held a 1-0 lead until the 4:10 mark of the quarter, when Elida freshman Sabrina Kline scored the first basket of the game, and led just 5-2 after one.
The Redskins led 9-2 early in the second before the Bulldogs closed the gap to just one, 15-14, with 44 seconds left in the half.
But Wapak senior Courtney Knippen scored on a baseline drive, drew the foul and converted the free throw to make it 18-14 with 25 seconds remaining.
Knippen finished with game highs in points with 18 and rebounds with 12 to lead the Redskins. She scored 10 of Wapak’s 18 first-half points.
“Unfortunately for Elida, I just don’t think they have anybody really that strong that can control her,” Allen said. “And she’s able to recognize that. ...
“If it wasn’t for her, I’d hate to see where we might have been going into halftime. I’ve got to give her a lot of credit for putting us in the position we need to be in and still coming into the lockerroom with the lead.”
Junior Annie Henderson added 11 points. Sophomore Sara Warner chipped in with seven.
Kline led Elida with seven points.