ALBION — Whitko’s girls basketball team had its work cut out for it in the opening round of sectional play. The Wildcats faced the sectional hosts, which are also undefeated and are the defending state champions.

The Cougars proved why they are the overwhelming favorite in Class 2A, beating Whitko 76-27 in the semifinals of sectional play on Saturday.

“They are clearly a really good basketball team, worthy of the expectation that has been placed on them to repeat (state title),” Whitko coach Rick Bragg said. “Our plan was to have an understanding that there were certain things we needed to accomplish to compete and, unfortunately, we were unable to do those things. We wanted to come into the game in front of what we knew would be a huge and loud, partisan crowd, and not be intimidated.”

It was difficult for the Wildcats to not be intimidated as the Cougars ran out to a 24-4 first quarter lead, expanding the margin to 49-10 at halftime.

“The reality is that Central Noble is a team that thrives on jumping on an opponent early and being relentless in their effort,” Bragg said.

Bragg challenged the girls to compete in the second half, playing with pride and working hard through the end of the game. The girls did just that, holding Central Noble to 15 points in the third quarter and 11 in the fourth, while scoring eight and nine points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.

“I could not be any more proud or appreciative of them for their determination and effort,” Bragg said.

Emi Duggins led the team with 11 points, followed by Ellie Snep with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Kayla Schipper scored six points.

“The girls and I would like to thank the support, not only tonight (sectional game), but throughout the season,” Bragg said.

The Wildcats finish the season with a 5-18 record.