CUYAHOGA FALLS — It took a little while for Elyria Catholic’s offense to show up Wednesday evening.
The defense smothered Southeast from the opening tip.
The Panthers limited the Pirates to nine first-half points during their 52-32 win in the Division III regional semifinal. EC (22-4) is one of just eight teams remaining in Division III and will face Chippewa (25-1) in a rematch of last year’s regional final Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Panthers won 46-36 a year ago.
Southeast finishes its season at 21-4.
“In the first quarter our shots weren’t really falling, but lucky for us we were still playing good defense,” said point guard Faith Williams, who sparked the Panthers in the second quarter by scoring all 11 of her points in the 2:55 before halftime. “We didn’t let them get a lead or anything, that was the key. Our biggest thing is to play lockdown defense every game.”
The Panthers only shot 2-of-11 for the first quarter, but so did the Pirates. EC shook its slump in the second, but Southeast finished 3-of-18 from the field at halftime. And its three best players — Andrea Radcliff, Shelby Morehead and Rachel Neer — combined for seven points in the first half and 16 for the game.
Radcliff, who was just named Northeast Inland district player of the year, was averaging 19 points heading into Wednesday. The Panthers held her to five in the first half and 12 for the game.
“We were trying to keep her away from the basket,” EC coach Eric Rothgery said. “She’s a good all-around player, so our goal was just to stay between her and the basket. Nothing too complicated.”
Junior forward Ally Winnen was the primary defender on Radcliff and was a big reason the Panthers outrebounded the Pirates 44-26.
“She has a really good shot fake,” said Winnen, who led EC with 21 points. “I had to get it in my head not to leave my feet. She’s a really physical player, so I had to fight her a little bit. But overall I thought we did a really good job against her.”
The rest of the team combined to limit Morehead and Neer to just four combined points — with Neer being shut out. Both players were all-district honorable mention.
Regan Schill had a particularly strong defensive game on the perimeter, denying Southeast driving lanes to the bucket and coming up with a pair of steals. She also helped start a 15-0 run to end the second quarter — scoring on a tough layup and a free throw to set up Williams’ run of 11 unanswered points, including three 3-pointers.
The Panthers almost went the entire second quarter without giving up a field goal, but Halle Morehead connected on a layup at the buzzer. Prior to that, the Pirates’ only three points came on free throws by Radcliff.
“We know that defense wins games,” Schill said. “Each and every girl knows that we’re not going to let our girl score because we want to hold them as best as we can.”