Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
From the opening tipoff, Lakewood displayed a defensive intensity that kept Magnificat’s potent offense in check for the better part of three quarters.
Ironically, that intensity may have proven to be the visiting Rangers’ undoing.
The Blue Streaks, hinderd by turnovers and rushed shots for the first 20-plus minutes of play, regained their composure late in the third quarter. They found some holes in the Lakewood press and gradually pulled away for a 59-45 win Saturday afternoon at the House of Blues.
Magnificat, now 14-6 on the season, used a 14-1 run to break open a game that had been closely contested throughout. The Blue Streaks had led by no more than five points to that point, but used some extra passes - and patience - to get some breathing room against the determined Rangers.
“We had not played a game in 10 days,” said Blue Streaks head coach Meghann Hubach. “We had a good week of practice, but as hard a practices can be it’s still doesn’t match playing a game. We needed to wake ourselves up a bit at the start of the game today.
“Lakewood did a really good job. They play hard, and they play with confidence. I thought they did a good job on our guards and made it tough for us to get into our offenses. They have some speed and quickness at that position.
“We were a little impatient on the offensive end. We had a bunch of turnovers that we don’t typically have. We turn the ball over, but nothing like we saw in the first half,” she said.
The Rangers were coming off an 83-33 win over Midview that clinched the West Shore Conference championship. On Saturday, they used their defensive intensity to hold down the potent Streaks, forcing first-half 10 turnovers and holding them to just 21 shots from the floor.
In fact, the Rangers led twice in the second quarter. A pair of Mikayla Harper free throws gave Lakewood a 13-11 lead, then a stop-and-pop jumper from Maggie Rowell had the Rangers up 15-13.
A Claire Martin 3-pointer just before the half, however, put the Streaks up five, 24-19, at the intermission.
“Defensively, we were trying to pressure them and wear them down,” Hubach said.
“I think we were wearing them down, but we weren’t getting anything out of our press. We were getting compromised then in the half court. They were in the one-and-one early in the second quarter, so defensively we weren’t in a good flow.
“It took us a little bit of time to get going,” she added.
As the second half unfolded, Lakewood refused to buckle. A score inside from Tori Milicevic had the Rangers back to within three, 33-30, with just under three minutes left in the third quarter. But after a Lakewood timeout, the home team began to find its rhythm on the offensive side of the ball.
Freshman Anne Ubbing scored on a fast break, then a score inside by freshman post player Elise Keshock gave the Streaks their biggest lead of the game at 37-30. A baseline drive for two from junior guard Sarah Scelza made it 39-30 heading into the fourth.
Lakewood started the final eight minutes by missing three of four attempts from the free throw line. Magnificat took advantage and pushed the lead to 43-31 on an offensive rebound from freshman point guard Phoebe Sterba and a fast break bucket by Scelza.
Lakewood head coach Mike Harper called another timeout with 5:43 remaining, but to no avail. The Streaks capped off their run with a score inside from 5-10 junior Bridget Pryatel and a fast break bucket off a turnover by Sterba to make it 47-31.
The Rangers rallied and cut that 16-point lead in half, making the score 48-40 on a Milicevic stickback with 2:01 remaining. But that was as close as they could get as the Streaks closed out the win with an impressive 11 of 12 performance from the charity stripe.
“Give the credit to them,” said Harper, whose team lost just its third game of the season.
“Some of the things you want to do out on the court, sometimes the other team just won’t let you,” Harper said. “And I felt we had defensive lapses at times. Against a good team like Magnificat, they’ll make you pay.
“If you’re not rotating back defensively, and if you’re taking chances and gambling out there when you should just keep your man in front of you, you can get burned. But like I said, give props to Magnificat, he added.
Lakewood struggled at times offensively against Magnificat’s taller lineup. The Rangers made just 11 of 54 shots from the floor and had a number of those blocked on drives to the basket. Harper led the way with 12 points, the trio of Megan Barrett, Madison Clause and Milicevic each chipped in with eight and Rowell added seven.
“They’ve been scoring points,” Hubach said. “Like I said, they play with confidence and they play aggressively. They did give us some trouble, but we just needed to be more patient and work our way through things.
“We took the press off, went into our half-court defense and tried to keep them off the free throw line. Even so, they were able to use their quickness to attack the basket and get some shots off against us.
“In the second half, we weren’t being too quick to get rid of the ball. We did a little bit better job of protecting the ball and being patient in our offense, she added.
Harper felt his team helped Magnificat’s patience by being a bit too aggressive at times.
“I thought we made some silly mistakes gambling. I don’t know what we thought we were going to do,” he said. “Sometimes we were trapping out top in a wide-open court and giving up easy back-door layups. We were going for steals and giving up easy layups.
“The game was 33-30 and we were battling. Then all of a sudden we were missing shots offensively and not rotating back on defense. We tried to put a little pressure on them in the full court.
“But as I’ve said before: We have some work to do on that,” he added.
Sterba led Magnificat with 13 points and six rebounds, while Pryatel had 12 points and six rebounds. Martin, Scelza and Keshock each added six points for the Blue Streaks, who head into Wednesday’s rematch with St. Joseph Academy.
“This was a great game to help us prepare for the tournament,” Hubach said. “We were fortunate to earn the No. 1 seed, so everybody is going to be looking for the upset, looking to beat Magnificat.
“I think that certainly is what Lakewood wanted to do today. They gave us a good test, and I think this is very much the kind of game we’ll see during the tournament,” she added.
Lakewood concludes its regular season at home Wednesday night against neighborhood rival Rocky River. The Rangers open tournament play next Saturday against Berea.