LAGRANGE — After Wednesday night, the Raiders are ready for their biggest test yet. Fueled by a strong performance from guard Ally Ross, Columbia skated past Keystone 34-26 in the Division III sectional opener.
The Raiders will need a giant lift from the victory, as they will meet Elyria Catholic in the sectional final Saturday at 1 p.m. The Panthers made it to the Final Four last year and are the district’s top seed.
Columbia, the ninth seed, will have only two days to prepare. The Raiders insist they’ll be ready.
“I think every single one of our girls are so athletic. We’re fully capable of guarding them,” Ross said of Elyria Catholic. “EC has an amazing team, but I think we can compete with them. I think we can pull out some surprises and really stay up there with them.”
A pair of free throws from Ross with 1:01 remaining sealed the deal for the Raiders.
Ross dictated the offense from the start, attacking the basket as well as setting up teammates. She scored a game-high 20 points.
The game was a defensive battle from the start, but Columbia found the range in the final quarter, scoring 13 points after only five in the third quarter. The Raiders’ stout defense held Keystone to 12 second-half points.
“This is kind of revenge against other teams,” Ross said. “I do believe that we’re one of the best teams in the PAC. To finally pull a win out of all this hard work we’ve been doing is just what I wanted my team to get to.”
“She does a lot more than (score),” Columbia coach Corey Taylor said of Ross. “She’s one of our best defensive players. She does a really good job on the boards. As a guard at 5-5, she’s scrappy.”
The Raiders were able to overcome sloppy play due to timely scoring. Turning the ball over seven times in the third quarter, Columbia weathered the storm. Keystone failed to capitalize off multiple extra possessions, slowing its offense to a halt.
Keystone came within three points with 1:23 left after a pair of free throws from Alexis Bowen, but it was too late for the Wildcats, who saved their best quarter for last with nine points. Keystone was led by senior forward Taylor Stefan, who battled down low on offense and defense, finishing with 12 points.
The loss marked the end of an era at Keystone. After 480 games, coach Scott Terry retired. Over his 21 years with the program, the Wildcats went 337-143.
“We thought it was really important to leave everything on the court, especially because we knew it could be our last game,” Stefan said. “We know how important basketball has been to Coach for the last 21 years.”
“To have the support from the community and also the student body and other fans that have been coming for a long time that don’t have kids but they still come to the games, that’s what it’s all about,” Terry said. “It’s about community and I don’t think there’s a better example of that than here in LaGrange.”
Columbia 34, Keystone 26
COLUMBIA (34): Danielle Gerda 0-0-0, Riley Thomas 2-0-6, Jill Grzywna 1-1-3, Carissa Templeton 0-0-0, Jessica Garrow 0-0-0, Emma Roberts 1-0-2, Megan Seitz 0-0-0, Amelia Hritz 0-0-0, Allyson Ross 5-8-20, Averey Lavinder 1-0-3, Regan Gallaher 0-0-0. Totals 10-9-34.
KEYSTONE (26): Madi Herrington 1-0-3, Shelby Fortune 0-0-0, Faith Baracskai 0-0-0, Alexis Bowen 0-2-2, Ashley Elliott 2-0-4, Taylor Stefan 4-4-12, Jayden Whitacre 0-0-0, Lily Cassell 0-2-2, Peyton Halleen 1-0-3. Totals 8-8-26.
Columbia 12 4 5 13 — 34
Keystone 8 6 3 9 — 26
Three-point goals: Columbia 5-18 (Thomas 2, Ross 2, Lavinder), Keystone 2-11 (Herrington, Halleen). Field goals: Columbia 10-39 (26 percent), Keystone 8-39 (21 percent). Free throws: Columbia 9-19 (47 percent), Keystone 8-15 (53 percent). Total fouls: Columbia 15, Keystone 15. Turnovers: Columbia 17, Keystone 14.