CUYAHOGA FALLS — Elyria Catholic found itself in the zone most of Wednesday night.
Smothered by Newton Falls’ zone, that is.
The Tigers frustrated the Panthers well into the third quarter by packing the post, but EC pulled things together just in time to slug out a 55-54 triple-overtime win in the Division III regional semifinals at Cuyahoga Falls High School.
EC, 21-5, will face Chippewa (27-0) in the regional final at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“It was very frustrating,” said senior forward Megan Scheibelhut, who finished with 21 points but entered the fourth with just two. “We had a couple of turnovers when we were trying to get it inside, because they’re not as big as we are. But their defense was really good in the first half.”
Specifically, the Tigers (19-10) forced EC into nine first-half turnovers and only committed three fouls. On the other hand, the Panthers committed eight fouls with Scheibelhut and Regan Schill each picking up two, limiting their minutes early.
Every time EC tried to work the post, either Scheibelhut or center Ally Winnen was surrounded by at least three defenders. And the Panthers were unable to soften up that zone with their outside shooting — connecting on just three of their 11 attempts from 3-point range at halftime.
Winnen had some crucial moments for EC, working the glass to the tune of five rebounds and 11 points, including six in the first three quarters.
“Newton Falls has a great zone,” Winnen said. “They almost perfected it and we weren’t getting the looks we wanted. Going into the third and fourth quarter, we started getting more shots we wanted and that’s all we can ask for. It was definitely frustrating, but we had to keep our composure.”
But despite the lopsided half from a fouls and turnovers perspective, EC was only down four going into halftime. Newton Falls never led by more than six and the Panthers responded with a 10-3 run to close the quarter.
Abby Winnen’s 3-pointer got things started, ending a 2:27 scoreless stretch for both teams. Faith Williams then shook off her shooting drought — she opened the game with back-to-back 3-pointers, but then misfired on her next nine. None more haunting than an air ball at the end of the first quarter, which inspired a raucous Newton Falls student section to chant “air ball” every time she touched the ball for the duration of the game.
She made amends big-time during a personal 7-0 run, splitting a pair of free throws then hitting a 3-pointer on what looked like EC’s last possession of the quarter. A Newton Falls turnover put the ball back in EC’s hands with about five seconds to go. Williams took the inbounds pass, turned and fired another three at the buzzer, giving EC its first lead since early in the second quarter at 29-28.
The junior, who finished with 15 points, was pumped. So was her team.
“Oh, that was a big shot,” Williams said. “It kind of shushed them up a little bit.”
Newton Falls swiftly pushed its lead back to three, but Scheibelhut got rolling. She tied the game at 32 with a three and went on to score 19 of her 21 points over the last 18:43 — seven in the fourth quarter and seven in the third overtime, including the game-clinching layup with 16.3 seconds left.
“They had a really good zone,” Williams said. “We started figuring things out when we were hitting that short corner and diving backside. Then we started hitting those layups, Megan started hitting those threes and things came together nicely.”