CUYAHOGA FALLS — On Nov. 24, Elyria Catholic was embarrassed in its season opener, shooting only 24 percent from the floor in a 49-27 loss to Division I Strongsville at home.
The Panthers turned the ball over a season-high 34 times in the loss and trailed 36-14 at halftime.
After the game, Elyria Catholic coach Eric Rothgery talked of what his team should take from the staggering defeat.
“We panicked on offense a lot tonight, but this was the first game of a long season,” he said. “As the year goes on we’re going to panic a lot less.”
A few months and 26 games later, Elyria Catholic is as composed as they come as it gets ready to take on Versailles in the OHSAA state semifinals.
The Panthers (22-5) have been steady as they come in the postseason.
After breezing through the sectionals, the Panthers were able to stay calm in a 54-53 triple-overtime win over Newton Falls in the Division III Cuyahoga Falls regional semifinal.
Then, with a trip to Columbus on the line against undefeated Chippewa in the regional championship game, Elyria Catholic methodically marched to a 10-point victory, 46-36.
In the Strongsville game, the Panthers’ frontcourt trio of Ally Winnen (6-1 sophomore), Abby Winnen (6-1 sophomore) and Megan Scheibelhut (6-2 senior) combined to score just five points and grab 15 rebounds.
In the Panthers’ two regional tournament victories, the trio combined for a total of 63 points and 47 rebounds.
Rothgery knows Elyria Catholic will have to continue to dominate the paint against Versailles, the Associated Press’ top-ranked Division III team in Ohio.
“After that first game we wanted to commit to being a team that pounds the ball inside, and it’s not as easy as it sounds,” he said following the win over Chippewa. “At the beginning of the year we had a couple of rough spots, but today, the way we got back in it, pound it, pound it, pound it.
“That’s what we’ve got to be able to do.”
Versailles has just one loss this season, but Panthers junior point guard Faith Williams thinks her team’s tough early schedule has prepared it for these big playoff games.
“The beginning of our season really got us ready for these kinds of games,” she said. “We had a really hard schedule to start, playing teams like Mentor, Strongsville and St. Vincent-St. Mary. That really got us prepared for this.”
The Elyria Catholic-Versailles game will tip off Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University.
“We’ve wanted this so bad since October when we started,” Ally Winnen said. “It doesn’t matter how we started, it just matters how we end.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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