CUYAHOGA FALLS — Elyria Catholic couldn’t have dreamed of a better situation through 2½ quarters.
The Panthers had held Chippewa to eight first-half points and built an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter. The Chipps’ best player, Celina Koncz, only had three points. It looked as if EC was headed to the state semifinals for the second straight season.
But with its back against the wall, Chippewa decided it was going out on its terms and went back to a pressure defense for the last 12 minutes.
Turns out the Chipps weren’t going anywhere, as they rallied past Elyria Catholic for a 39-37 win Saturday in the Division III regional final.
The Panthers were headed home.
Chippewa’s press changed everything. EC committed 15 fouls and 16 turnovers in the second half.
“I think we handled them well in the first half, but in the second half we just panicked,” junior center Ally Winnen said. “We didn’t take care of the ball well.
“We made dumb passes and didn’t make passes with confidence. We let them get back in the game because of their press.”
Chippewa improved to 26-1 and will play Waynesville in the Final Four on Thursday.
“We weren’t playing the defense that I always use because we felt that they would be able to beat it,” Chippewa coach Dennis Schrock said. “So I looked over at my assistants and said, ‘If we’re going down, we’re going down with my defense.’ We just started getting turnovers and were able to stop the clock and cut that lead down.”
Elyria Catholic (22-5) held advantages in a number of key categories, most notably rebounds, thanks to the play of Winnen. She finished with a game-high 16 — six on the offensive end — and also led all scorers with 15 points. Her defensive efforts held Chippewa center Grace Lindquist, a third-team all-district selection averaging 12.7 points, to just 1-of-7 shooting for seven points and four rebounds.
Regan Schill also played outstanding defense on Koncz. The first-team all-district selection was averaging 16.5 points and eclipsed 1,000 for her career — with one more year to go — but started 0-for-8 from the field until she scored her first bucket with 1:42 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers didn’t have Schill in the fourth quarter because she picked up her fifth foul within the first 30 seconds. Without her, Koncz broke free for 11 points. Her biggest moments came on back-to-back possessions — a layup to bring Chippewa within one and a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Chipps their first lead, 36-34 with 2:50 left.
“When Regan fouled out, that hurt us because she’s our best defender,” said EC point guard Faith Williams, who scored eight points. “She was shutting down (Koncz) the whole game. Once she fouled out, (Koncz) started scoring a bit more. It also put more pressure on us because she’s also a leader with me. It hurt not having her out there with me.”
Winnen answered on the next possession, but Kierra Amelung responded with her only field goal — sneaking in the back door for a crafty putback. Williams split a pair of free throws to make it 38-37.
The Chipps went to the line three times in the final 40 seconds, but only hit one of their six free throws to give EC three chances to tie or win the game. The Panthers couldn’t connect.
“It’s hard to lose a game in the regional final and it’s hard to lose a game when you had a big lead,” coach Eric Rothgery said. “But it wasn’t from a lack of effort, it was more a lack of execution when it counted. These girls worked very hard and played very hard.”
Chippewa 39, Elyria Catholic 37
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (37): Annika Bredel 1-0-3, Kaylie Griffin 0-0-0, Ally Winnen 5-5-15, Faith Williams 2-3-8, Regan Schill 2-0-5, Emily Rapacz 1-0-2, Stephanie Griffin 0-2-2, Julia Allegretto 1-0-2, Shaniya Jackson 0-0-0. Totals 12-10-37.
CHIPPEWA (39): Celina Koncz 5-3-14, Bailee Ferrell 0-2-2, Grace Lindquist 1-5-7, Bailey Clark 2-5-9, Kierra Amelung 1-0-2, Madi Hall 0-0-0, Taylor Thomas 2-0-5. Totals 11-15-39.
Elyria Catholic 8 13 10 6 — 37
Chippewa 7 1 11 20 — 39
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic 3-13 (Bredel, Schill, Williams), Chippewa 2-13 (Koncz, Thomas). Field goals: Elyria Catholic 12-40 (30 percent), Chippewa 11-40 (28 percent). Free throws: Elyria Catholic 10-15 (67 percent), Chippewa 15-31 (48 percent). Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 36 (Winnen 16), Chippewa 21 (Ferrell 6). Total fouls: Elyria Catholic 24, Chippewa 15. Fouled out: Winnen, Schill. Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 25, Chippewa 16.