NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Elyria Catholic’s demolition tour through the Division III North Ridgeville district tournament continued Wednesday.
This time it was No. 5 seed Lutheran West that stood in the way of the top-seeded Panthers.
Nine 3-point field goals, including four by senior Faith Williams, tenacious defense that forced 20 turnovers and ballhandlers who always seem to get the ball in the hands of the open player gave Elyria Catholic more than enough ammunition to roll to a 68-34 win in district semifinal action at the North Ridgeville Academic Center.
The win earned the Panthers (20-4) a fourth consecutive district finals appearance.
Elyria Catholic will face No. 7 seed Lutheran East in Saturday’s district final at 1 p.m. The Falcons came from behind to defeat Kirtland 62-56 in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
“It’s really important to try to start off these games strong,” said Williams, the game’s leading scorer with 16 points. “We’re really treating every game like it’s our Final Foul in Columbus. We’ve been there and know what it takes. That’s why we’re working our hardest to get things done early.”
Kaylie Griffin got the game started for Elyria Catholic with an early 3-pointer. By the end of the first quarter, Griffin had her second 3-pointer, Williams had two and Regan Schill hit from long range as the Panthers opened a 19-6 lead.
“We shoot a lot in practice and you see that pay off in games when they can come out and knock down a few shots early,” Elyria Catholic coach Eric Rothgery said. “If we’re hitting outside shots we’re pretty tough to play with the size we have on the inside, too.”
The Panthers’ inside game received a boost Wednesday when junior Abby Winnen took the court for the first time since injuring her knee in the Cactus Jam in Arizona in late December.
In limited minutes, Winnen scored six points and grabbed three rebounds.
“Every time we go out onto the court thinking we’re going to have a great offense.” Winnen said. “We like playing basketball together, so when we get into games it’s easy to move the ball around and hit shots. We were really able to show what we had to offer as a team.”
After a shaky first quarter, Lutheran West played relatively well. But when you spot a team as talented as Elyria Catholic a 19-point lead 10 minutes into the game it’s almost impossible to come back.
“In the first quarter we made some poor zone rotations and left them a lot of space on the outside to shoot, and give them credit they made the shots,” Lutheran West coach Trey Senney said. “I thought our kids did a really, really good job of hustle and things like that but when you make mental mistakes against a team like Elyria Catholic you’re going to get punished.”
The Longhorns, the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division champions, finished the year 21-4. Larnae Vance led them with 14 points.
With the Panthers taking a 33-12 lead into the locker room at halftime there wasn’t much drama in the second half except to see if Elyria Catholic could build a 35-point lead for the second consecutive postseason game to invoke the running clock mercy-rule instituted for tournament play.
Lexi Hall scored her only two points of the game with 1:14 to play to briefly give the Panthers a 36-point lead at 68-32.
One of the most noticeable differences between the team came at the free throw line. The Panthers shot 83 percent (10-of-12) while Lutheran West was just 1-of-8.
“If felt great to be back on this court tonight,” said junior Ally Winnen of where the Panthers won last year’s district title. “We got my sister back, we’ve battled through adversity to get back here and, honestly, it feels like we never left.”
Ally Winnen had 14 points.
“I think we’ve come together and gotten so much closer and we know if we play like this we can get back to Columbus,” she said. “We’re playing with confidence, we move the ball well and we’re talking good shots. Everyone on this team is unselfish, that’s really the key.”
Elyria Catholic 68, Lutheran West 34
LUTHERAN WEST (34): Larnae Vance 6-0-14, Jashuna Harris 1-0-2, Hope Kirlay 1-0-2, Paris Mather 2-1-5, Evelyn Albers 1-0-2, Julia Ellerbruch 3-0-9. Totals 14-1-34.
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (68): Lexi Hall 1-0-2, Stephanie Griffin 1-0-2, Faith Williams 4-4-16, Regan Schill 3-0-9, Julia Allegretto 1-0-3, Emily Repacz 3-0-6, Abby Winnen 2-2-6, Annika Bredel 1-2-4, Kaylie Griffin 2-0-6, Ally Winnen 6-2-14. Totals 24-10-68.
Lutheran West 6 6 15 7 — 34
Elyria Catholic 19 14 18 17 — 68
Three-point goals: Lutheran West (Ellerbruch 3, Vance 2), Elyria Catholic (Williams 4, Schill 3, K. Griffin 2, Allegretto). Field goals: Lutheran West 14-35 (40 percent), Elyria Catholic 24-45 (53 percent). Free throws: Lutheran West 1-8 (12 percent), Elyria Catholic 10-12 (83 percent). Rebounds: Lutheran West 24, Elyria Catholic 29. Turnovers: Lutheran West 20, Elyria Catholic 15. Total fouls: Lutheran West 14, Elyria Catholic 10.