DII girls: Third quarter run helps Pirates advance
Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by Larry Bennet
Zone defense slowing you down? Shots rolling around the rim and out? Lose one of your top scorers with an injury?
No problem at all for the Rocky River girls basketball team.
The second-seeded Pirates brushed all that aside in Thursday night’s Division II sectional final with Buckeye. River went on a torrid 16-0 run in the third quarter and left Elyria High with a 50-24 win over the Bucks.
River, now 15-7, will face West Shore Conference foe Bay next Thursday night at Elyria in the district semifinals. The winner of that game will play for the district championship and a berth in the Sweet 16.
There was nothing sweet, however, in the Pirates’ first half against Buckeye. The Bucks’ 2-3 zone had River playing at their pace, and a 16-9 rebounding edge hindered the Pirates’ running game as well.
A mini 6-1 run to close out the first half, topped off by a Hannah McCue 3-pointer, had River up 18-9. But Pirates head coach Mike Sislowski knew his team had to pick up the pace.
“It was the tempo of the game at that point,” explained Sislowski after the game. “To be honest with you, we played a slow tempo when out style is to pick it up, use pressure and push transition.
“When you play these teams that love playing their zones, as we’re quickly finding out, you either settle for their tempo or you raise it. In the first half, we settled. As a result, they slowed down the possessions and made sure Hannah didn’t touch the ball in the paint,” Sislowski said.
The Pirates didn’t settle for long. Despite losing senior Katie McNally to a hand injury early in the second half, River cranked up the defensive pressure and started to make things happen.
After Buckeye cut the lead to 18-11, the Pirates went to work. Junior Annie Swartz started things off with a jumper, then senior post Ciara Kessler drained a pair of free throws to push the lead to 11 points at 22-11. Two straight steals in the backcourt by senior point guard Allyson Helleis pushed the lead to 15 and had River back in high gear.
McCue scored inside, then junior Katie Kocher stole the ball and scored for a 30-11 lead. Two more Kessler free throws and a steal for two by McCue made it a 16-0 run and pushed the Pirate lad to 21.
In the quarter, the Pirates forced 10 turnovers, most of which were converted into points. For the game, Buckeye coughed the ball up 32 times.
“There’s no doubt that our defense picked up the pace,” Sislowski said. “The funny thing is, the first comment I make is about our offense being unacceptable. But our defense forces our offense, and that’s what we really weren’t happy about in the first half.
“We just didn’t think the energy level was there. We know what our girls are capable of doing when they play defense with their feet and at that higher energy level. It wasn’t there.That’s all we talked about at halftime: raising the tempo and playing Rocky River defense.
“I thought you saw that in the second half. As a result, the points came,” he added.
McCue led all scorers with 18 points while hauling in six rebounds. Kessler had 15 points, while Helleis chipped in with nine. McNally was held to just two points before leaving the game early in the third quarter.
Sislowski also thought his bench played a key role in getting the Pirates out of their first-half doldrums.
“All year, people have heard about our starters,” he said about his team’s third-quarter run. “I thought tonight, it was our bench. I thought we had some young kids out there like Katie Kocher, McKenna Klodnick and Sarah Lesiecki raise the tempo. I think that’s what really instigated the run.
The Pirates third encounter of the season with Bay will tipoff at 6 p.m. next Thursday at Elyria High.
The sectional finals in the bottom bracket will take place Saturday night at Elyria High. At 6 p.m., Cleveland Central Catholic will take on top-seeded Keystone, while third-seeded Holy Name will tangle with Firelands in the nightcap. The winners will play after the Bay-River matchup next Thursday night.