Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
It was an 11-minute stretch of tournament basketball that neither the Lakewood Rangers or Westlake Demons will soon forget.
The Monday night memories will no doubt be fond ones for the Demons.
Westlake, clinging to a two-point halftime lead, held the high-powered Rangers to just two points over the first 11:41 of the second half. The Demons combined that with a string of 3-point shots and came away with a hard-fought 42-36 win over Lakewood in a Division I district semifinal game at the Elyria Catholic Coliseum.
The Demons, now 20-5, advance to Friday night's district championship game at EC. They'll face Westshore rival Magnificat, which defeated Medina, 47-27, in Monday's second semifinal matchup.
Westlake held Lakewood to just one of 11 from the floor in the third quarter, then held the Rangers scoreless for the first 3:41 of the third quarter. Ranger senior Mikayla Harper split a pair of free throws, but then her team failed to score again until 2:29 remained.
That's when sophomore Ryann Greenfield hit a pair of free throws. But as the Coliseum clock ran down, the Rangers found themselves on the wrong end of a 39-27 score. The Demon defense had done its job.
But was this one of Westlake's best defensive performances of the season?
"I think so," said Demons head coach Chip Weiss without hesitation. "I really do.
"Two points in the third quarter? We really did it, we wore them down," Weiss said. "We let them back in it there at the end, that was the worst part. But overall, that's the best defense I've seen from our girls.
"We did a great, great job against a Lakewood team that can really score," he added.
Westlake, which had made just nine of 25 shots in the first half, did just enough offensively to make its defensive stand count.
Junior Rebecca Essig opened up the half with a 3-pointer, then senior Paige Rimko followed up with a trey of her own. That gave the Demons some breathing room at 30-22 as Lakewood head coach Mike Harper called timeout with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
"That was huge," Weiss said of the two long-range shots. "Any cushion we could get at that point was important.
"Both teams are so balanced, and they're so well-coached," Weiss said. "They're the spittin' image of us. We do the same things with the press, the offense.
"I really thought coming into this game, from the Berea-Midpark game on to Brecksville and Amherst when we took the conference lead, the experience we gained coming down the stretch really helped tonight," Weiss said.
After the timeout, the Rangers responded as sophomore Christina Kamkutis scored off an offensive rebound at the 3:04 mark. But that would be it for the Lakewood offense for the next six-plus minutes.
Westlake didn't fare much better at the offensive end of the court, but got a big shot of momentum late. Essig, heavily guarded by a Lakewood defender, heaved a desperation 3-pointer from deep in the Coliseum that splashed through the net at the buzzer.
That made it 34-24, Demons, their first double digit lead of the game.
"We came out a little slow, but then we picked it up," Essig said. "Then in the third quarter, we held them to two points.
"That was great, then we went on that streak. Everyone contributed with clutch shots, great passes and good defense. We played really well together," she said.
Westlake's run continued into the third quarter. Senior Allison Collins drained a 3-pointer, then junior Taylor Hood hit a jumper to give the Demons their biggest lead of the night at 39-24.
Lakewood, however, took advantage of some Westlake misses from the free throw line in the final 1:15 to creep back into it. Senior Madison Clause got her team to within six, 39-33, but the Rangers missed four of six from the charity stripe in the final minute.
A Harper 3-pointer pulled the Rangers to within four at 40-36, but Essig iced it with a pair of free throws with just over three seconds left.
"A two-point third quarter? I don't know of too many teams that can overcome that," Coach Harper said. "That's tough.
"Westlake has a really feisty defense, but I felt like we got the shots we wanted. We did what we wanted to do, and I felt good at halftime being down only two. I don't think it was a lack of execution.
"It was a lack of putting the ball in the hole. I don't know. I haven't figured out how to out-coach that," he said.
For the game, Harper's Rangers made just 12 of 49 shots for 24 percent.
"Being in a conference with Elyria Catholic, we felt we knew this gym, this court," Harper said. "We thought that would be more conducive offensively for us than for them.
"That's why we chose this path. But it wasn't meant to be," he added.
Clause and Harper both scored 12 points for Lakewood, which closed out its season at 17-7. Clause led the Rangers with nine rebounds, while Kamkutis chipped in with eight.
For Westlake, Essig led the way with 14 points, while junior Monica Fury added 12 points and six rebounds. Senior Erin O'Neill also had six rebounds as the Demons held a slight 32-30 edge on the boards.
"Our girls all knew what we had to do," Weiss said. "They executed and did a great job.
"We were very physical because they had a height advantage on us, but we just took care of it," Weiss continued. "We boxed out very well and kept them off the boards. I was worried about their height and strength today. I thought we controlled most of it.
"They got a couple, but I thought we really controlled the tempo inside," he said.
But when it was all said and done, Weiss still felt it was his team's defensive effort that had them playing in the district finals for the first time in three years.
"We watched a lot of film on Lakewood," Weiss said.
"We didn't want any penetration, and we anticipated every move they made offensively. We wanted to anticipate what they were going to do, and make them guess what we were doing defensively. And it worked.
"I also thought we did a great job of bearing down and forcing turnovers in the first half," added Weiss, whose team forced six Ranger turnovers in the second quarter.
Friday night's championship game will tipoff at 8 p.m. at the Coliseum.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: