MEDINA — The notion is almost as old as the sport itself: you win basketball games on defense and the backboards.
With one of their strongest defensive showings of the season and almost complete domination of the boards, the top-seeded Elyria girls (16-6) defeated Amherst 39-30 on Thursday night. It was the first game of a Division I district semifinal doubleheader at Medina High.
Combined with Admiral King’s 62-48 thumping of Brunswick in the nightcap, the Pioneers’ victory sets up an All-Lorain County championship game between the two top seeds. The old rivals will meet for the second time this season at 1 p.m. Saturday in Medina with a trip to the Norwalk regional tournament hanging in the balance.
The Pioneers defense limited Amherst to fewer than 20 points in each half and controlled the backboards by a whopping 40-24.
“We had to crash the boards and we all did a good job,” said Tai Dotson, the Pioneers’ 6-foot-1 junior forward. “We needed to get in there, box out, snatch it down and get the ball upcourt. With us being big, we need to take advantage of that and box out. Just because you’re big doesn’t mean you’re going to get every board.”
Coach Mike Walsh was very happy with the defense.
“That’s the best four quarters of defense we’ve played all year,” he said. “I’ve really been hard on our team about our defense. In this program, we’re pretty much used to our defense predicating what we do, and over the years and the success we’ve had has been because we’ve been a good defensive team.”
He also liked the Pioneers’ rebounding.
“The first thing we said was we gotta take care of the boards,” said Walsh. “Obviously with our size, we had that to our advantage and I told them, ‘Amherst is going to be very scrappy. They’re going to scrap, they’re going to box you out, but you just have to fight for the boards.’ I thought we did a pretty good job on the boards.”
It looked as though Elyria might rout the Comets after taking a 12-4 lead in the first quarter and increasing it to 22-8 three minutes into the second. The Pioneers’ Honesty King, the area’s leading scorer, drilled two 3-point baskets and put up 10 points in the half. But the Comets (11-12) ended the half with an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 22-16 at the break.
A foul shot by the Comets’ Ashley Aponte cut Elyria’s lead to 22-17 less than 30 seconds into the third quarter. But the Pioneers went on a 9-0 run as sophomore Brigette Jones scored four points, King and Dotson scored two apiece and Charnele Oliver made a free throw. When King drove for a basket in the final minute of the quarter, it gave Elyria a 33-22 lead going into the final eight minutes.
Amherst put together a 6-0 run midway through the fourth period that closed the gap to 33-28. And although the Pioneers got a putback from Jones, it was sandwiched between four Elyria turnovers. Dotson went coast-to-coast for a layup and King added two foul shots to create the final score after Amherst’s Courtney Jarvis scored a putback.
“This means a lot to us because Amherst is a tough team,” King said. “They knocked us out of it last time and we just wanted to beat them. I didn’t expect us to be up 22-8, but I did expect them to run back at us. I thought this would be a very close game.”
Amherst coach John Rositano said he thought the Comets could win if they held Elyria under 40 points.
“We had the tempo, but I thought we had to be able to make some shots like we have the last couple weeks and stay with them on the glass,” Rositano said. “But we didn’t make the shots and we just got murdered on the boards.”
Sharpshooting from the outside, Amherst defeated previously unbeaten Rocky River in the final game of the regular season, then upset fourth-seeded North Olmsted, the Southwestern Conference co-champion, in a sectional final on Feb. 13.
Saturday’s winner gets a shot at the Perrysburg district champion at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The regional championship and a berth in the Final Four will be at stake when Tuesday’s winners tangle in Norwalk at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29.
Elyria handled the second-seeded Admirals 61-53 in the Lorain County Holiday Classic championship game on Nov. 17. In that one, the Pioneers built an 18-point lead, but saw Admiral King close to within a point before pulling away.
But the Admirals (20-2) now have the area’s longest winning streak at 18 games. And they no doubt recall it was Elyria that defeated them 52-45 to win a sectional championship in Medina last Feb. 24.
Contact Bob Daniels 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elyria 39, Amherst 30
AMHERST (30): Ashley Aponte 0-1-1, Brittany Cruz 2-1-7, Lizzie Soto 0-0-0, Bridget Cruz 0-0-0, Olivia Sliman 1-0-2, Miranda Szucs 0-0-0, Courtney Jarvis 5-4-14, Bridget Beury 3-0-6. Totals: 11-6-30.
ELYRIA (39): Kassandra Messenger 1-0-3, Charnele Oliver 0-1-1, Honesty King 6-2-16, Brigette Jones 3-0-6, Tai Dotson 4-0-8, Tess Sito 2-1-5, Burgandy Jones 0-0-0. Totals: 16-4-39.
Amherst 6 10 6 8 – 30
Elyria 15 7 11 6 – 39
3-point goals: Amherst 2-13 (Brittany Cruz 2); Elyria 3-7 (King 2, Messenger). Field goals: Amherst 11-40 (27.5 percent); Elyria 16-45 (35.6 percent). Free throws: Amherst 6-12; Elyria 4-8. Rebounds: Amherst 24; Elyria 40. Turnovers: Amherst 18; Elyria 22.