Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
As the 2012-13 regular season winds down and the tournament season approaches, now might not be a good time to have the Bay girls basketball team on your schedule.
The Rockets, with a rotation full of underclassmen, went through more than their fair share of struggles early on this season. But over the past few games, Bay has shown that it may have reached the upward trend of the learning curve.
Last Saturday, the youthful Rockets knocked West Shore Conference rival Avon out of conference contention with a stunning 53-52 overtime win. Wednesday night, they hosted North Ridgeville and dominated the game from start to finish in a convincing 59-21 decision in WSC play.
It looks like the Rockets have finally reaped some rewards from their on-the-job training, according to head coach Chris Brewer.
“Most definitely,” said Brewer after Wednesday night’s game at the Launch Pad.
“We’re very pleased with the direction we’re headed right now,” Brewer said. “We talked about it yesterday in practice. We feel like we’re now really starting to come along together as a team. I think going through a killer part of our schedule helped that.
“We got killed by Amherst, then we had to travel down to Medina Highland, a Top 25 team. We battled them pretty well, and then we came back and got to the Lakewood game. That’s where we made some changes in our philosophy on how we were going to approach things, both from a coaching standpoint and a team standpoint.
“From there, we haven’t won every single game, but we’ve been very competitive. We’re hoping that, as any team would, you’re peaking at tournament time. We definitely feel like we’re heading in that direction,” he added.
Since a 36-28 loss at Rocky River, Brewer’s crew has won four of seven and three in a row. The streak started when Bay won a 38-23 defensive struggle with Keystone. Conference leader Lakewood pulled away in the second half for a 52-35 win, then back-to-back losses to Vermilion and WSC contender Elyria Catholic.
But the loss to EC was a narrow 59-55 decision, signaling better things to come. The Rockets thumped cellar dweller Midview 65-34, then opened the month of February with the stunning win over Avon/
In that game, junior guard Rachel Jerome had the hot hand with 20 points, while senior Claire Werblak had 12.
“That game was crazy,” Brewer said. “We went up 15-0, and I think it was 19-1 for us at one point in the first quarter. They came storming back and tied it up at halftime, and after that it was a back-and-forth ballgame.
“What a huge momentum uplift for our team to pull that one out. We’ve been in some games against some really good teams where we’ve had them up against it late in the forth quarter, but couldn’t get over the hump.
“Against Avon, we finally did. It was almost like getting the monkey off our back. We finally got one of those big wins, and we’re hooping to take it from there,” Brewer added.
They did just that Wednesday night.
The Rockets jumped out to a 19-3 lead after one quarter of play against North Ridgeville, which turned the ball over 11 times against Bay’s full-court pressure. Werblak led the charge offensively, scoring eight of her game-high 15 points in the quarter.
The home team continued the onslaught defensively in the second quarter. Bay held the Rangers scoreless until Allissa Riley hit a lay-in off a steal with 47 seconds left in the half. A 3-pointer from freshman guard Megan Williams - thanks to an offensive rebound from fellow freshman Lauren Heldt - made it 25-7 at the intermission.
A 3-pointer from Werblak opened the third quarter and set the tone for the final 16 minutes of play. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Brewer’s bench was getting plenty of floor time as his Rockets put the finishing touches on their ninth win of the season.
“We got to the point where a shot at winning the conference was over for us,” Brewer said. “At that point, there were two things we could do.
“One, we could take on the teams above us in the conference and see if we could knock them out of the way. Two, we could get ready for the tournament. That’s been our motive through practices and games. We’ve prepared ourselves with those two things in mind.”
In the Wednesday night win, the Rockets spread the wealth offensively. After Werblak, no other Bay player reached double figures, but yet the scoring balance was evident. Jerome and fellow junior Ellen Hanna each had six points, while sophomore point guard Rachel Williams, Megan Williams and sophomore Liz Burns each chipped in with five.
“We’re sharing the ball much better,” Brewer said. “Part of that came from us having to go in and make a few coaching changes on how we were running some things and how our plays were being designed.
“Claire is an awesome player. She’s our leader out on the floor, and she’s the one we look to all the time. But when we get those other kids stepping up like Rachel did against Avon, and we get our posts contributing four or six points a night, and the Williams sisters get their four-six-eight points a game...
“Now that really spreads it out where we don’t heavily rely on Claire to do everything. She’s going to have her big games, but now we have other people stepping up to make our offensive flow much better,” he added.
The Rockets also won the rebounding battle, 35-30, as Jerome and Heldt each grabbed six. Emily Groh snared a game-high 11 boards for the Rangers.
Bay will close out the regular season with a non-conference home game with Clearview next Monday night and the WSC finale next Wednesday night at Elyria Catholic.
The Rockets open Division II tournament play at Elyria High against Fairview on Monday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m.