Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
There were several times during the regular season when the Bay girls basketball team dug a hole for themselves in the first half, only to make a game of it in the second half.
Some of those rallies resulted in wins, others in narrow defeats.
On Monday afternoon at Elyria High School, the fifth-seeded Rockets managed to pull another late-game win out of the hat. They put on a defensive clinic and turned a 22-14 halftime deficit into a 41-36 win over Padua in a Division II sectional tournament contest.
The win upped Bay’s record to 13-8 on the season and put the Rockets in Thursday night’s sectional championship game against fourth-seeded Clearview.
“In that first quarter, we weren’t ready for the way Padua was playing us,” admitted Bay head coach Chris Brewer, whose team turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter alone to find itself behind early, 13-2.
“They were very physical, plus I think the bigger floor threw us off a bit,” Brewer said. “You combine a couple of those things plus a case of the nerves - which were apparent - and that made for a rough start.
“But once we settled down a bit, we were able to get back to what we were supposed to be doing,” he added.
The first quarter was a disaster for the Rockets, who made just one of eight shots from the floor, got outrebounded 9-6 and turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, the Bruins went inside to 6-1 senior Tamira Ford and got a pair of 3-pointers from Jenna Ripepi to build their lead.
There was a hint of things to come, however, as the Bay defense forced seven turnovers in the quarter. Padua coughed it up five more times in the second quarter as the Rockets started to settle in.
A bucket inside by Jillian White and a free throw from Taylor Seton opened the second quarter, resulting in a Padua timeout. The Rockets continued to chip away, cutting the lead down to six points twice on scores inside from Seton and White.
Down 22-14 at halftime, the Rockets finally got off the launching pad in the second half.
Padua, despite maintaining a 7-point lead in the third quarter, was having a tough time with Bay’s full-court press. The Rockets closed to within two points, 24-22, on a Claire Werblak 3-pointer and a score inside by Seton. The Bruins committed 10 turnovers in the quarter, but managed to keep the lead thanks to a 7-point performance from Leena Clint.
The Bruins, however, would manage just seven more points the rest of the way, while committing 10 more miscues in the fourth quarter. That allowed the Rockets to make their move.
Senior point guard Kaleigh Sima followed up a Claire Wilson rebound and opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to four at 29-25. After a pair of traveling calls on Padua, Wilson scored off a steal to cut it down to two.
Padua stemmed the tide a bit with a free throw, but Bay freshman Rachael Williams drove the lane for two, cutting the Padua lead to a single digit. A pair of Claire Werblak free throws gave Bay its first lead of the game at 31-30 with 4:40 left in the game.
Padua responded with two free throws to regain the lead, but a Seton free throw and a bucket inside by Wilson put the Rockets back out in front at 34-32 with 3:22 left. Wilson’s score proved to be the game winner, as the Rockets made five of nine free throws down the stretch to hold on for the victory.
“We felt like we could pressure them,” Brewer said. “But when we went with some of our zone presses, they just weren’t working for us. Padua spread us out on that big floor, so we decided to go more with a man-to-man press.
“That’s what really changed the game around,” Brewer said. “Getting stop after stop, some steals and easy baskets was a big change from the first half.”
Aside from the 3-pointers from Werblak and Sima, the rest of Bay’s points came inside or at the free throw line. The Rockets made just 15 of 28 free throw attempts, but went five of eight in the final 2:43 to clinch it.
Wislon led the Rockets with 14 points, while Werblak and Seton each added eight. Seton, despite foul trouble, had six rebounds, as did Wilson, while Werblak added five. Clint led the Bruins with 11 points.
“We definitely started to pound the ball inside and got some good looks there,” Brewer said. “Our shooting that first half was atrocious. We were something like 5-for-20 and 0-for-8 at the 3-point line.
“We knew if we came out and shot like that in the second half, our season would be over. So we did a good job of getting the ball inside, and I think that opened up the outside game for us. Claire and Kaleigh hits some timely threes that were big for us,” he added.
The Rockets will take on Clearview Thursday at 6 p.m., followed by Rocky River facing Buckeye in the nightcap.
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