ELYRIA — On one of the worst shooting nights of her career, senior guard AuBree LaForce came through when it counted, hitting a pair of free throws late in the game to lift Vermilion to a 36-32 win over Rocky River in the Division II sectional tournament at Elyria High School.
With 13.4 seconds remaining in the game and Vermilion (13-10) clinging to a two-point lead, LaForce, who had scored just three points and was 2-for-11 from the floor, stepped to the line for a one-and-one.
Both shots nestled into the net without even grazing the rim.
“The worst-case scenario for a coach is to be down two points late and have a player like AuBree LaForce shooting two free throws,” Pirates coach Mike Sislowski said after his team bowed out at 10-14. “She deserved that opportunity for everything she’s done for that program, and when she was given the opportunity she executed.”
Vermilion, the fifth seed, moves on to meet top-seeded Fairview (20-4) in a district semifinal next Thursday at 6 p.m.
Sailors coach Colin Irish, despite LaForce’s off-night, had complete confidence in her. When she stepped up to the line, Irish had the other four Vermilion players move all the way to the other end of the court and set up on defense.
“I wanted to get the ball in her hands because I knew she was going to make them,” Irish said. “I want her to have the ball in her hands in late-game situations like that because I had no doubt she was going to step up and make the free throws.
“That’s why I pulled the rest of the girls off the free throw line. I told them no matter what happened, it would give us a four-point lead. They were out of timeouts, so even if they would have scored we were going to let the ball bounce and finish off the game.”
Hannah Bartlome scored a game-high 13 points while Andrea Dillon, in just her fifth game of the year after gaining her eligibility, scored 10 points and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to lead the Sailors.
Vermilion was playing without leading rebounder Ellen Rossi, who was injured during practice this week. Junior Leigh Stainbrook, a 6-0 forward, was lost for the season earlier this month with shin splints.
“We split with them this year, and I was a little nervous because we were playing without two of our bigs,” Dillon said. “I knew I had to step up and had some big shoes to fill. I had to let it all out. This is my senior year and could have been my last game … so I wasn’t going to leave anything on the floor.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half. Vermilion led 14-8 after two quarters despite shooting just 27 percent from the floor (6-22). The Rockets shot an icy 18 percent (3-16) in the first two periods.
Bartlome scored nine points in the third quarter to give the Sailors some breathing room heading into the fourth quarter. She also finished the game with five assists.
“My shots weren’t falling in the beginning of the game, but the more I shot the more they started to fall,” Bartlome said. “I like to penetrate and dish the ball. The defense will usually collapse on me and double-team, and I can kick it to the post because it’s usually open underneath. That really worked out well today.”
Vermilion 36, Rocky River 32
ROCKY RIVER (32): Annie Swartz 0-0-0, Carolyn Farling 1-1-3, Nichole Popovich 3-2-8, Andrea Chiviles 1-2-4, Lucy Grierson 3-2-8, Kara Johanson 1-0-2, Meghan Ittu 2-2-7, Lydia Bednarski 0-0-0, McKenna Klodnick 0-0-0. Totals 11-9-32.
VERMILION (36): AuBree LaForce 2-3-7, Hannah Bartlome 5-2-13, Andrea Dillon 4-2-10, Jennifer Kovarik 0-0-0, Ali Kowal 2-0-4, Sarah Bartlome 1-0-2, Jasmine Porter 0-0-0, Kalynn Smith 0-0-0. Totals 14-7-36.
Rocky River 4 4 13 11 — 32
Vermilion 4 10 12 10 — 36
Three-point goals: Rocky River 1-6 (Ittu), Vermilion 1-6 (H. Bartlome); Field goals: Rocky River 11-36 (31 percent), Vermilion 14-39 (36 percent); Free throws: Rocky River 9-12 (75 percent), Vermilion 7-10 (70 percent); Rebounds: Rocky River 21 (Farling 8), Vermilion 29 (Dillon 10); Total fouls: Rocky River 11, Vermilion 12.
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or email@example.com.