DI Girls: Magnificat tops Westlake for district title
Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
It had been 10 years since the Magnificat basketball program had won a district championship. The last time was back in 2002, and the Blue Streaks made it all the way to state final four that season.
In their efforts to get back to the Sweet 16, the third time proved to be the charm for the Streaks.
Magnificat broke open a close game with a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter and defeated Westlake, 64-53, for a Division I district championship Saturday at Elyria Catholic. The Blue Streaks advanced to the Norwalk regional tournament and will take on Wadsworth Tuesday night at Strongsville High School.
The past two seasons, Magnificat had been stopped short of a Parma district title by Midpark. The move out to the new Elyria district brought a new challenge, with Westlake seeking its third district title in the last four years.
A quick start and a big finish, however, proved instrumental in getting the Streaks past the Demons’ challenge.
Magnificat jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and held an 18-11 advantage after one quarter of play at the Coliseum. And after the Demons had taken their first lead of the game late in the third quarter, the Streaks cranked up their defense and hit some key shots to put the game away.
“We knew that we had to come out and make a run,” said Magnificat senior guard Stephanie Haas, who led her team with 22 points, seven of those in the crucial fourth quarter.
“Both teams had made runs the whole game,” Haas said. “We knew they were going to make a run, we just had to contain it and go on a run of our own. We knew the start of the fourth quarter was going to be big.
“With eight seniors, we knew this was our last chance,” Haas said. “We wanted to get it done.”
Westlake, which ended its season at 20-4, had fought back during the third quarter. Down 32-27 at halftime, the Demons had two shooters catch fire in senior Rachael Trujillo and junior Rachel Collins.
Collins came off the bench and scored eight-straight points for Westlake, the last two coming on a reverse layup that cut the Blue Streak lead to two at 42-40. Trujillo, who tied Haas for game scoring honors with 22 points, had nine points in the quarter. Her drive down the lane for two put the Demons ahead, 46-45, with 17 seconds left in the quarter.
Magnificat, however, was quick to answer as senior sharp-shooter Paige Wise pulled up in the corner and drained a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer. Just like that, the Streaks had regained the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Wise’s trey seemed to give Magnificat the spark it needed. Senior point guard Megan Barilla followed up with a score inside, then Wise scored on a fast break that started with a blocked shot. Wise was fouled on the play and made the free throw to push the lead to 53-46 with 6:29 left in the game.
Haas scored next on one of her trademark drives to the hoop, then Barilla split a pair of free throws to make it 55-46. Meanwhile with 2:28 left in the game, the Demons had yet to find the bottom of the net. That’s when Haas found fellow senior Maddie Barry inside for another basket, forcing a Westlake timeout.
Haas completed the run with a free throw. With 1:29 remaining, the Blue Streaks had an 11-point lead and were on their way to the Norwalk regional.
“We really struggled in the fourth quarter offensively,” admitted Westlake head coach Chip Weiss, whose team didn’t score until senior Katie Carroll got an offensive rebound for two with just over a minute left.
“We couldn’t get anything going,” Weiss said. “ We had four or five possessions where we couldn’t get anything, not even a shot attempt. Then they would bring the ball down the floor and execute. They’re a very good offensive team with a lot of weapons.
“We didn’t get any good looks. We made some bad passes and weren’t ready to shoot. And when we did shoot, we had nobody rebounding whatsoever. We were one shot and done. They did a nice job rebounding the ball. I know we lost that battle big time today,” he said.
Collins wound up with 14 points off the bench for Westlake, while junior guard Liz Kobe added eight. Wise followed up Haas with 19 points, while Barry chipped in with 12.
“I thought Paige played extremely well today,”said Magnificat head coach Meghann Hubach. “She really stepped up and scored the ball, especially in the first half when it took Steph some time to get going.
“Paige didn’t hesitate on that shot,” Hubach said of her senior’s 3-pointer that gave the Streaks the lead for good. “We’ve been telling our shooters to be ready to catch and shoot when you get the open shot, and that’s exactly what she did. That certainly propelled us into the fourth quarter.”
Hubach said her team’s defense made the difference.
“We said our defense really needed to step up big in the fourth quarter,” she said. “We knew we would get our shots and make them offensively, but we also couldn’t put them at the foul line and give them second and third shots.
“We wanted to force them into taking either a quick shot or a shot they didn’t necessarily want, and think we were able to do that,” she added.
Magnificat, now 19-4, will take on 21-3 Wadsworth, which defeated Brunswick 54-32 to win the Medina district. The game will be played at 7 p.m. at Strongsville High.
“We’re already thinking about Wadsworth, and we know we have our work cut out for us,” Hubach said. “But we also know we can play with anybody. Our strength of schedule certainly prepares us for that, so we’ll see what happens.
“I think our seniors were a huge factor in the win today. This was something our seniors really wanted. They’ve been disappointed twice before, and I don’t think they wanted to walk away disappointed again. They stepped up and made sure that didn’t happen,” she said.
Even though their season was over, Weiss took the time to praise his squad on another successful season.
“I’m so proud of our team’s effort,” Weiss said. “To be 20-4 with this group is pretty impressive. Our players and coaches worked extremely hard to get back here. They made the commitment to the district finals.”
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