Following its loss to Trinity last weekend, Independence needed a win at rival Cuyahoga Heights on Wednesday to stay within one game of the first-place Trojans.
The Blue Devils rose up in the fourth quarter to beat their rivals, 37-33.
“I thought we were extremely tough and gritty, especially in the fourth quarter,” said Independence coach Mike Marcinko. “People had to step up and pitch in to get things done. It was a really good team win.”
Cuyahoga Heights focused on slowing down Independence’s top scorers in Riccela DiGeronimo, Anna Weber and Madison Stepanik and that kept Heights in the game as the score was tied, 23-23, entering the fourth quarter.
“They focused on Riccela and Madison really hard,” Marcinko said. “They were double-teaming and sagging off of others. They did a great job game-planning for us.”
Weber, who scored a game-high 14 points, drained a 3-pointer and finished with five points in the final eight minutes. Addie Westerburg scored all five of her points in the decisive fourth and Natalie George added four of her six in the final period.
“Natalie had one (basket) on a great baseline drive reverse layup. Probably the only people that weren’t shocked were the people in blue because those are things we work on. She’s comfortable doing a reverse layup and it paid off,” Marcinko said. “Addie had a clutch five points in the fourth quarter and Anna pitched in five. She was pretty consistent in scoring every quarter. She demands attention, which allows some other people opportunities and Nat and Addie took advantage of that in the fourth quarter.”
Independence’s defense had its hands full with a dangerous Heights team.
Julia Jaenke scored a team-high 10 points but the Blue Devils successfully held standout shooters Julia Harris and Tess Conroy to nine and seven, respectively.
“I thought defensively we played pretty well,” Marcinko said. “You’re always going to have breakdowns and we did. We had our fair share, but as a team, I thought we defended very well. Natalie did a great job on Harris. For a sophomore, we throw a lot at her because she has to run the offense and a lot of times she’s defending the point guard on the other team, which is usually one of your better players. She has to work hard mentally and physically at both ends, but she slowed Harris down enough.”
Slowing down Conroy took a team approach.
Weber, Westerburg and Alex Adams took turns disrupting Conroy’s path to the hoop.
“Alex Adams did a heck of a job the last minute and a half of taking her out and face-guarding her to take her out of the game,” Marcinko said. “The three of them took turns defending her so we could get some different sizes and different athletes and different looks on her. We wanted to do our best to make her earn every shot she got.”
With the win, Independence improved to 7-3 overall and 2-1 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division. The Blue Devils host Richmond Heights on Saturday.
Cuyahoga Heights dropped to 8-5, 2-1 with a game against first-place Trinity on deck for Saturday.