Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Well into the third quarter, Saturday night’s game between Magnificat and Rocky River was living up to expectations. The two teams, each loaded with talent and championship pedigree, were matching each other basket for basket, rebound for rebound.
Something had to give. It did.
A nasty collision between the Blue Streaks’ Stephanie Haas and Pirate point guard Allyson Helleis knocked both players temporarily out of the game. Shortly thereafter, the combination of Helleis’ brief absence and Magnificat’s zone defense turned into a 16-8 Blue Steak run, leading to their eventual 60-43 win in the Pirates’ Cove.
Magnificat, the top seed in the upcoming Elyria Division I district tournament, upped its record to 15-3. River, which earlier in the week won its sixth-straight West Shore Conference title, ended its regular season at 13-7 and enters tournament play as the second seed in the Elyria Division II tourney.
The two teams battled on even terms in the first half, with the Blue Streaks holding a slight 31-28 halftime lead. In the third quarter, River senior and Miami-Ohio recruit Hannah McCue scored the opening basket to make it a one-point game.
Then with 5:41 left in the quarter, Haas and Helleis collided in the Magnificat forecourt. Both players were visibly shaken and had to be assisted off the court. They would both return to the game during the quarter, but the temporary loss of Helleis - and a defensive adjustment by the Blue Streaks - seemed to slow the Pirate offense.
When play resumed, Magnificat struck first on a 3-pointer from Paige Wise. McCue countered with a drive for two, then Bridget Pryatel scored inside for the Streaks. With 4:02 left in the third, Magnificat head coach Meghann Hubach called timeout.
“They have a great deal of talent, and we were having trouble matching up with them man-to-man,” Hubach said.
“We went to the zone defense, and I think that flustered them a little bit. It took them out of what they wanted to do and made them a little bit uncomfortable. Our girls did a nice job of moving and defending the 3-point shot.”
The Blue Streaks began to pull away, with Maddie Barry scoring inside and Wise hitting a free throw for a 39-32 lead. Maggie Given scored off a steal to make it 41-32. Ciara Kessler scored inside for River, but the Streaks kept coming and the Pirate offense continued to falter.
“For whatever reason during that stretch, our girls lost a little of their emotion,” said River head coach Mike Sislowski, who saw his team’s deficit grow to 10 points, 47-37, during the run.
“Allyson’s our point guard, and she’s our leader,” Sislowski said. “She’s been that for three years now, so as much as you tell the girls ‘hey, play with more emotion’ in a situation like that, I thought that took the wind out of our sails a little bit.
“And against a team like Magnificat, with just that little bit of a game change, you’ll pay the price,” he added.
Against the zone, River had no treys in the second half and managed to hit just four of 16 field goal attempts in the final two quarters. Five Pirate turnovers in the third quarter helped the Blue Streaks turn a 36-32 advantage into a 47-38 lead heading into the fourth.
“Offensively, we did a nice job of being patient,” Hubach said. “Normally, we like to get out and score in transition, but sometimes in doing that we have silly turnovers or don’t make layups. I thought we did a good job of looking to attack their zone,” she added.
With that 47-38 lead, the Blue Streaks opened the fourth quarter with a spread offense. And with Haas and Barilla holding the ball up top, the Streaks were able to pull the Pirates out of their zone and find easy shots inside.
After Barilla found Haas in the corner for a 3-pointer, Magnificat went on an 8-3 run that put the game away. Barilla, Maggie Given and Pryatel all scored easy layups behind the River defense, while Wise added a layup off a fast break.
“The other night against St. Vincent-St. Mary, we didn’t do a very good job running it,” Hubach said of her team’s fourth-quarter switch. “We worked on it in practice this week, and we needed it tonight because we wanted to pull them out of their zone. “Although we had a 10-point lead, you’re never comfortable when you’re playing in a game like this. We didn’t want to force things up and take early shots. We wanted to spread the floor, force them out of their zone and take what we could get.
“I thought Barilla did a nice job of seeing the floor and making a couple good passes, and Given did a nice job of making the extra pass for a layup. Again, we wanted to be patient and take what the defense gave us,” she added.
Despite her collision with Helleis, Haas led the Streaks with 17 points. Wise had 13 points, while Barilla and Barry added 11 and seven points, respectively. Pryatel had eight rebounds, while Barilla hauled in five.
“Obviously, Stephanie is our leading scorer and somebody our team looks to,” Hubach said of the third-quarter collision. “I thought the girls did a great job of coming together while she was out. Different kids stepped up and weathered the storm until she was able to come back in.
“I give both players credit. To go down like that and be able to comeback into the game shows they’re both great competitors,” she added.
McCue, who had three treys in the first half, led all scorers with 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while fellow seniors Kessler and Katie McNally each added nine points.
“Magnificat made a couple of good defensive adjustments,” Sislowski said. “I thought in the first half, we played our tempo. We were doing it our way, but we made some silly mistakes. And every time you make a mental mistake, you can cue up two points for Magnificat.
“At halftime, we felt if we could eliminate the five or six mental mistakes we made, this was exactly the style of game we wanted to play. But in the second half, we played more their tempo, for whatever reason. We started taking a few quicker shots rather than working it in to Hannah and Ciara down low.
“It was a game of runs, and they made that run late in the third quarter. Then all of a sudden, you’re chasing the clock and Magnificat. That’s too much,” he added.
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