Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With just under a minute remaining in overtime and the game tied at 45-45, Westlake held the ball high up top. Rebecca Essig, with the ball in her hand, looked to the sideline, then looked ahead.
A few passes later, Essig had the ball again, this time at the top of the key as the final seconds ticked away. She made a move past one Rocky River defender and made it all the way in for a game-winning layup as the Demons came away with a 47-45 win in their season opener Friday night.
It was the first official varsity game at the new Westlake High School, and Essig's late-game heroics made it one to remember. She hit the layup with 2.6 seconds remaining and was fouled. She missed the free throw, but Taylor Hood picked off the Pirates' long outlet pass to seal the win.
"We held the ball out there because we felt we had a mismatch," said Westlake head coach Chip Weiss, whose team battled back from a 39-32 fourth quarter deficit to force overtime and eventually pull out the win.
"We wanted to spread them out a little bit because we've got some pretty good guards out there with Essig, Allison Collins and Hood on the perimeter. The girl on Rebecca was a post player, a taller person.
"Rebecca was able to get a step or two on her. We like to penetrate, and then she can kick it out. But she kept it and it worked out. It was a good finish for us. It was big," he added.
"I would have rather lost by three than losing on a layup," said Rocky River's first-year head coach Dave Murphy.
"We all should have been in there and let her kick it out. But they spread us out pretty good because they were hot on threes. They hadn't driven to the rim hardly at all tonight, but they got there at the end," he said.
But for the better part of the night, it was Murphy's Pirates who had controlled the game. They used a 16-6 second quarter to take a 22-14 halftime lead, then held off a number of Demon runs to hold a 39-32 lead with six-plus minutes left in regulation.
But even with the lead, River had a disturbing trend going against it. The Pirates started to turn the ball over, with seven miscues in the third quarter and eight in the fourth.
Westlake took advantage. Corinne Furci nailed a long trey from up top with 1:39 to go to pull theDemons close at 43-41. Then after a River turnover, Kelly Laraway converted a baseline drive for two to tie the game at 43-43 with 30 seconds remaining.
Andrea Chiviles nearly won it for the Pirates, but her driving shot in the key glanced off the rim. She got her own rebound, but was tied up as the buzzer sounded to force the overtime period.
In the overtime, River regained the lead when Carolyn Farling was blocked, but put in the rebound for a 45-43 advantage. But Essig scored on a layup with 1:49 remaining, then another Pirate turnover put the ball back in Essig's hands as the clock started ticking off the final minute.
"I think we got tired, and turnovers occur more when you're tired," said Murphy, whose team turned the ball over 33 times on the night.
"We don't have a lot of bench strength, so we try to keep our top six girls out there as much as we can. We had a nice lead, but then we seemed to break down. They went back door and got a layup, and then they got something else from a breakdown.
"Those were stops we should have got, but we didn't," he said.
Weiss said he felt his team gained confidence as the game went on despite trailing most of the way,
"I just think we were nervous early on," he said. "We're very inexperienced on the floor, and we're still getting used to each other.
"We really don't have an identity yet. We're trying to figure out who we are and what we can do. It's a young cast, basically a whole new team, We got into a groove offensively because our defense led us theta way. We spread them out and forced some turnovers and got a little run that way.
"The biggest thing for us was that we made our layups. We didn't finish at all in the first half, either on layups or at the free throw line. That really hurt us at the beginning," he said.
"Pirate sophomore Nicole Popovich led all scorers with 18 points, while Lucy Grierson, Kara Johanson and Chiviles added eight, seven and six points, respectively. But River couldn't deliver the knockout punch as Westlake rallied late.
"You go up six, and all of a sudden you can be tied in a minute against them," Murphy said. "I mean, they're down, time's running out and they've got nothing to lose. They're going to jack it up, like that one from the top of the key.
We had some breakdowns, and they hit their shots," he said.
Westlake had a balanced attack, with Collins leading the way with 13 points. Furci and Essig each chipped in with a dozen, with Furci making four 3-pointers and Collins three.
"When we got it tied up, you could tell our girls didn't want to lose the game. The bench was all pumped up, and the players on the floor were getting on each other saying 'hey, let's get this, let's do this.'
"Game experience like this is going to help us out, and that's what we need right now," he said.
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