Story by Jim Horvath
Photos by David Richard
After trailing by 17 points in the first quarter, Westlake had battled all the way back.
A tenacious defense, along with a monster of a game by freshman Monica Fury, had the Demons poised to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. With a 40-36 lead, all that was needed was one more score, one more defensive play...
One more free throw.
But none of those materialized for the Demons. Instead, Elyria got a pair of baskets from Alexis Middlebrooks in the final minute, then scored the first five points in overtime to hold off Westlake, 48-45, in a Division I Sectional Tournament thriller at the Elyria Catholic Coliseum.
“The biggest thing is we needed to make our foul shots,” said Westlake head coach Chip Weiss, whose team missed two front ends of one-and-ones in the final 1:29 of regulation.
“That really hurt us at the end. We were still up by two, but we missed a foul shot, they tied it up and we go into overtime. We put the two foul shots away, we’re up four with not a lot of time left on the clock.
“Then things are in our favor, but that didn’t happen,” he added.
Fury, who came off the bench to pour in a game-high 20 points, scored on a drive down the lane with 2:01 left in regulation. That gave the Demons a 40-36 lead. But the two missed bonus opportunities at the line were sandwiched by buckets from the 6-0 Middlebrooks, the last one coming with 23 seconds left.
Westlake also missed other scoring opportunities in the final minute, and that trend continued into the extra four minutes of play. Elyria capitalized on the opportunity as 5-6 senior Mary Jones scored the first basket in the OT for a 42-40 Pioneer lead.
Seconds later, 5-4 sophomore Sybil Roseboro pulled up on the right wing and launched a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net. All of a sudden, the Pioneers had turned a 4-point deficit into a 5-point lead.
“We’re up two, and I don’t know if that’s a shot you want her to take,” admitted Pioneers head coach Mike Walsh, whose team will now face Amherst in a district semifinal next week.
“But you know what? She’s done that in about three or four games this year,” Walsh said. “We’ve had games where we’ve had the lead, the ball went to her in that corner and I wanted to yell ‘oh my gosh, no no no!’
“When she let it go, I was like ‘please let it be one of those.’ And it was,” he added.
Walsh’s crew dominated the game early, scoring the first 14 points of the game and holding a commanding 19-4 lead at the end of the first quarter. But little by little, the Westlake press began to affect the Pioneers.
Elyria turned the ball over seven times in the second quarter as the Demons inched closer. A drive for two by Rachel Collins had Westlake back to within seven, 25-18, but a Jones 3-pointer allowed the Pioneers to take a 28-18 lead into the halftime locker room.
Westlake kept up the pressure, forcing 11 more Pioneer miscues and nearly shutting out their opponent in the third quarter. Another Jones 3-pointer broke the ice for Elyria, but a free throw by senior guard Liz Kobe had Westlake within striking distance at 31-27 heading into the fourth.
A steal for two and a free throw from Fury had the Demons knocking on the door. The Demons then burst through that door when freshman Rebecca Essig scored on back-to-back drives to the hoop for a 34-31 Westlake lead.
The lead grew to five at 38-33 on a pair of Fury free throws with 3:42 left in regulation. But yet another Jones trey kept the Pioneers close, while Fury’s bucket with 2:01 left was all the Demons could muster down the stretch.
“This was one of those nights for us shooting the ball,” said Weiss, whose team made just 17 of 67 shots from the floor, including a 2-for-13 effort in the overtime period.
“We didn’t shoot well tonight. We penetrated very well when it was there, and Monica made some big shots for us inside. Rebecca had those two nice layups that got us the lead.
“But the biggest thing was not making our free throws down the stretch. Then they scored first in the overtime, and that was big. We had to win the tip, which we did, and score, because usually the team that scores first in the overtime wins 90 percent of the time.
“If we score there, we have the momentum and it puts all the pressure on them. Instead, they got two quick scores right away and got up by five, and that hurt us since we weren’t shooting the ball well,” he added.
Fury’s 20 points came mostly inside and were fueled by her efforts on the boards. She had 11 rebounds, eight of them in the final 12 minutes.
“Monica’s been great for us,” Weiss said. “She’s been getting better and better every game. She finishes, and she has no fear. I keep saying that about her, but that’s because she’s a gamer and she goes right at you.
“But you’ve got to give Elyria credit. They could have folded, but they kept battling. They’re a very, very good team,” he added.
Kobe added 10 points and four rebounds, while Collins had four points and nine rebounds for the Demons. Jones led the Pioneers with 17 points, while Roseboro had 10. Middlebrooks did not start, but added eight points and 10 rebounds.
(You can see more pictures from David Richard at David Richard Photography