Story by Mike Holzheimer
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
It was to have been a festive occasion at Rocky River High School Friday night.
A Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place honoring some of the school's great student athletes from the past, and a special Pirate post-game party was planned.
On the basketball court, it was a rare girls-boys varsity doubleheader. The Lady Pirates, in the role of "opening act" for the evening, were hoping to avenge an early-season 56-52 loss to Lakewood and get the party started on the right foot.
The home team could accomplish neither as the Rangers made it a two-game sweep this winter in West Shore Conference action over Rocky River, 47-35, in front of a relatively large crowd inside the Pirates' Cove.
"When you play Rocky River, everything regarding your defense pretty much starts with Nicole Popovich," said Lakewood head coach Mike Harper, referring to the task of keeping Rocky River's junior all-conference player in check.
"We felt we had to deny her the ball better this time around," Harper said. "I thought we did a good job of that. I told the girls that even if you're late getting to her, make her put the ball down.
"You can't allow her to spot up and shoot. She's that good," he said.
Rocky River's defense was also good, but the Pirates were having a lot of trouble at the offensive end.
"We got some god looks, but just didn't convert," said Rocky River head coach Dave Murphy. "We had opportunities, but either missed the shot or turned the ball over.
"I was happy with our defense. If you can hold Lakewood to under 50 points, you're doing some things right. We just have to get it right on offense," he said.
Rocky River junior guard Andrea Chiviles was making things right early with the game's first jump shot, while senior post Mallory Scott scored in close to the basket giving the home team a quick and early advantage. Chiviles had six first-quarter points, but early foul trouble by the Pirates put Lakewood at the free throw line early in the period.
Harper's team was able to score some points with the clock stopped by way of the charity stripe. Junior Mallory Shaw's layup and an offensive putback by junior guard Christin Donohoe gave Lakewood it's first lead of the night, 11-10, a score that held up after the first eight minutes of play.
Popovich, who seemed to have a purple jersey following her everywhere she roamed on the floor, managed to get a three-ball to find its mark. That trimmed the Ranger lead to a pair, 13-11, with the second stanza just 1:48 old.
The visitors then caught fire as junior guard Mallory Shaw's 3-pointer from the left baseline extended Lakewood's lead to six, 19-13, with 3:15 left before intermission.
Murphy's team was able to answer down the stretch with a 5-0 run, thanks in part to a basket inside the key by senior post Carolyn Farling with senior guard Rachel Bednarski providing the assist. A jump shot near the foul line by Chiviles and a Bednarski free throw sent the Pirates into the halftime locker room trailing by just a single digit at 19-18.
Junior guard Lucy Grierson was very active for the home team doing a nice job in boxing out the taller Lakewood post players. She was also very active in the passing lanes with several steals in the first half and aggressive drives to the basket.
"Rocky River is long and athletic," Harper noted. "They run a lot of sets and really force you to be disciplined on defense."
Lakewood proved very disciplined regarding offensive rebounds during this contest. The Rangers seemed to be getting to a lot of loose balls, enabling them to maintain possession, run some clock and get good shots.
Some of those good shots were coming from senior post Madison Clause, who started to score down low with consistency. She put six points on the scoreboard herself by way of offensive rebounds and solid low post position.
It all added up to a seven-point advantage for Lakewood after three quarters, 29-22.
"We played more zone defense tonight than man-to-man so to slow them down and negate their quickness," Murphy said. "Our post players got into some early foul trouble, so it was tougher to match up with Clause.
"Again, though, it was all about a lack of offense for us tonight."
Indeed. If an opponent can leave the floor claiming it held Popovich to just 10 points and only two 3-point shots, it was a very good night defensively. Such was the case for the Lakewood defense.
In fact, Harper's team really put the defensive clamps on, allowing Rocky River just four points during the entire third quarter.
Popovich's final trey from beyond the top of the key got the Pirates to within four, 29-25, early in the final period. But that was as close as the home team could get.
A Savanajh Black field goal and a steal and layup from Clause pushed the Lakewood lead out to 39-28 with roughly two minutes remaining. Black would then score the game's final field goal to officially seal the game for the purple and gold.
"Murph does a great job with his team," Harper said. "They can come at you from any spot on the court. I just thought tonight, we kept their top players from getting to the basket with easy looks."
Lakewood was led by Clause's 17 points and seven rebounds, while Black had nine rebounds and seven points. Mallory Shaw (seven points) and Greenfield (six points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals) also contributed for the winning team.
"We really need a quality win," Murphy said. "I determine a quality win as when you can beat the team or teams ahead of you in the standings.
"So far, we haven't done that this year. We do have Avon and Elyria Catholic at home, so I'm happy about that," he added.
Popovich and Chiviles led Rocky River with 10 points each, with Popovich adding seven rebounds and two assists. Grierson finished with six points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals, while Farling netted four points and 11 rebounds.
Both Lakewood and Rocky River will continue WSC play on Jan. 28. The Rangers, 11-5 overall, are tied with Avon at 8-2 in the WSC for second place behind Elyria Catholic.
The Rangers will play North Ridgeville, while the Lady Pirates (8-6, 6-4) will travel to Midview.
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