AMHERST — When the fourth quarter ended and overtime began, Amherst coach Jay Valadez simply reminded his players who they were.
They responded by pulling away in their 53-46 Division I sectional final win over Avon.
“We preach, ‘Heart, smart, together,’” Valadez said. “You play with heart, you play hard, you play smart and you play together. The girls believe that and they’ve been playing together, and they always play hard, especially on the defensive end.
“On offense you can’t control the ball going in or not going in, but you can control your effort on defense. That’s what we rely on, especially in a game like tonight when you have to grind it out against a red-hot Avon team who came in winning eight of their last 10 games.”
The Eagles (12-11) overcame a nine-point deficit early in the second half to take a 39-36 lead early in the fourth quarter, fighting back into the game behind the torrid shooting of senior Elizabeth Flynn.
Flynn scored 12 points in a 19-7 Avon run. Her free throw with 6:20 left in the fourth tied the game at 36, then she found junior Ashlee Torbert open on the left wing for a 3-pointer that gave the Eagles the lead.
Senior Kamryn Dziak responded for the Comets (16-7). She knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 39 with 4:08 remaining, then, after the Eagles had taken a 42-40 lead, scored from the left baseline to tie the game again.
The teams continued to trade baskets, and with less than 30 seconds left in regulation Avon had a chance for the upset victory.
The Eagles cleared out the paint and let freshman Abby Liber try to take Amherst 6-foot-1 junior Amaya Staton to the basket.
Staton swatted the shot away, her eighth block of the game.
The Comets outscored the Eagles 9-2 in overtime to move on to face Olmsted Falls on Monday at Elyria Catholic.
“I was okay with it,” Valadez said of the Eagles trying to win the game against Staton. “They went one-on-one with a girl that had seven blocks to that point. Good for the freshman, good for her to take on that challenge. Good for her coaches to believe in her to do that. And I believe in Amaya.”
Avon interim coach Joe Schaffer said he possibly should have set something else up for the critical late possession.
“Abby is a freshman and we put her in a big moment there,” he said. “In hindsight I probably should have went to Flynn and I put that on me. I should have went to Flynn on the last shot. You get caught up in the game a little bit and it’s a hard lesson to learn.”
Staton said she knew what to do when Liber was coming at her.
“I knew I had to lay off her, and if she went in to time the block,” Staton said. “The last game they actually did that to me, but they used a lot more screens. I just laid off her and let her do what she does. She likes to go right a lot, so I just went to the right side and held my position.”
Staton finished the game with seven points and 12 rebounds to go with her eight blocks.
“Amaya and I had a conversation last night after practice,” Valadez said. “We talked about how it wasn’t going to be her points (tonight), it was going to be her presence. It was going to be about what she was going to bring in the paint, altering shots, grabbing rebounds and blocking shots.
“I asked her if she could play that role, and she said she would do whatever she needed to do for the team. She did everything for us.”
“I think Staton could be the best player in the county if she puts her mind to it,” he said. “She gets rebounds nobody can get. There was one possession in the fourth quarter where she just reached over our girl’s hands. Our girl was boxing out and doing the right thing.
“Those are the ones that kill you because your kids are doing the right thing. You just can’t teach that. She’s a good player.”
Dziak finished with 25 points. Valadez said Dziak’s shot to tie the game at 39 spearheaded the Amherst victory.
“Kamryn is special,” he said. “I always tell her to remember who she is and what she’s capable of. I believe in her and I have been instilling that in her over the course of the year. I wouldn’t want anybody else taking that shot. She’s got the green light whenever she wants it.”
Flynn paced the Eagles with 20 points. Torbert added 11 points while Liber grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
“Our girls came to win, just like any team comes to win,” Schafer said. “We were playing really well up to the end of the year, but I think they just beat us. There were some key moments we didn’t capitalize on, but our girls are warriors. I’ll go down like this if they gave everything they had, and I think they put everything on the floor.”
Junior Faith Lewis, who has started for the Comets for most of the year, scored 10 points off the bench.
“Faith did exactly what we talked about,” Valadez said. “Over this nine-day stretch we’ve talked about our roles and defining our roles and what gives us the best opportunity to win games. I told Faith what I needed from her and she said, ‘Whatever you need, Coach.’
“She’s so quick, and when you’ve got a high-energy girl like Lexi (Alston) out there already, you bring Faith off the bench and everything gets faster.”
Amherst 53, Avon 46 (OT)
AVON (46): Ashlee Torbert 3-2-11, Catie Geiger 1-0-2, Elizabeth Flynn 6-5-20, Rachel Hapanowicz 1-0-2, Kelsey Gannon 2-0-4, Abby Liber 1-0-2, Alyssa McLellon 1-1-3, Jules Frombach 0-0-0, Kiley Williams 1-0-2. Totals 16-8-46.
AMHERST (53): Lexy Alston 1-1-3, Kamryn Dziak 9-3-25, Katie Turner 1-0-2, Anna Cairns 3-0-6, Amaya Staton 3-1-7, Faith Lewis 4-2-10. Totals 21-7-53.
Avon 9 11 11 13 2 — 46
Amherst 11 17 6 10 9 — 53
Three-point goals: Avon 6-15 (Torbert 3, Flynn 3), Amherst 4-15 (Dziak 4). Field goals: Avon 16-57 (28 percent), Amherst 21-47 (44.6 percent). Free throws: Avon 8-16 (50 percent), Amherst 7-9 (77.7 percent). Rebounds: Avon 37 (Liber 10), Amherst 33 (Staton 12). Turnovers: Avon 13, Amherst 13. Total fouls: Avon 11, Amherst 13.