ELYRIA — Amherst traded blows with top-seeded Olmsted Falls for much of its Division I district semifinal showdown Monday night, refusing to play the part of also-ran.
But despite the valiant effort from the Comets, the Bulldogs were the last ones standing after a 44-41 decision at Elyria Catholic High School in a game in which neither team led by more than five points.
Olmsted Falls (21-3) advances to play Avon Lake in the district championship game Thursday.
“We knew no one gave us a shot coming into this game,” Amherst coach Jay Valadez said. “I hope we were able to show people that we can hang with anyone and we’re not going anywhere.”
Amherst (14-10) actually led for a large part of the game, including most of the third quarter.
Olmsted Falls used a big run at the end of the third to take a 32-30 lead, but Amherst tied it early in the fourth quarter.
Just moments after a layup from Amherst’s Lexy Alston tied the game at 36 Olmsted Falls connected on a 3-pointer take a 39-36 advantage.
Georgia State University commit Kamryn Dziak helped the Comets tie the game again with a spinning layup and was fouled, making the free throw with 1:20 remaining.
Claire Kelly gave the Bulldogs the lead for good with a runner over numerous Comets. On the ensuing possession, Kelly came up with a steal and transition layup that provided the final score.
“We would have loved to come out with a win, but I am proud of the way we played,” Dziak said. “Anything I can do to help my team makes me happy.”
“Amherst is a phenomenal team and they didn’t make it easy,” Kelly said. “We weren’t shooting that well, so I tried to be aggressive going to the basket.”
After a quick start to the third quarter, the Comets grabbed their biggest lead of the game at 26-21. The lead came on the heels of a 7-0 run from Amherst, which played high-energy defense and was patience on offense.
Amaya Staton had two blocks and a layup during the Comets’ big push.
“We try to use defense as our calling card, because that is something we should always be able to rely on,” Valadez said.
Dziak and Kelly put on a show, going back-and-forth at each other.
Kelly scored nine points in the third quarter, including seven straight to pull her team back from a five-deficit. After knocking down a deep 3-pointer, Kelly, who finished with a game-high 28 points, scored on a twisting layup to give Olmsted Falls a 32-30 lead.
Dziak wasn’t far behind, pouring in 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
“They are a really good team and she is a tough player to stop,” Dziak said. “All we can do is put a hand up and make it difficult.”
Amherst used defense to race out to a 10-5 lead that was capped by a Faith Lewis steal and buzzer-beating layup. The Comets pushed their lead to 12-7 before Kelly scored eight quick points the help Olmsted Falls pull back ahead.
Amherst led 21-19 at the half.
“We played one of our best games of the season and we definitely gave them a run for their money,” senior Katie Turner said. “We had a lot of fun this season and I love everyone on this team.”