WILLOUGHBY—For 16 minutes of their rivalry game at South on Wednesday, the North Rangers were in jeopardy of losing to the Rebels for the first time since Dec. 13, 2014.
South opened the game with an 11-8 lead but the Rangers rallied to take a 24-20 lead into halftime. North then exploded for 48 points in the second half on the way to a 72-41 win.
“We expected their best effort,” said North coach Paul Force. “It’s a rivalry game and they’ve been playing well the last week and a half or so with winning two of their last three. They came out in the first quarter with a lot of energy and they were making shots.”
North has now won 14 straight against rival South but it didn’t come easily.
Kailey Minch got the Rebels off to a hot start when she drained a pair of 3-pointers and finished the first quarter with eight of her 12 points. Emma Woolnough also hit a 3 in the frame.
Meanwhile, North struggled to find its groove but turned it up a notch in the second quarter when Avril Drew scored nine of her 25 to help the Rangers rally for the lead.
“We feel we had some good looks at the basket but we just weren’t converting,” Force said of the first quarter. “That was one of the positives at halftime. Even though we shooting poorly, we still had a four-point lead and we were controlling the boards.”
Abby Carter sparked the Rangers in the third quarter as she attacked the basket and followed that up with a pair of free throws.
She then hit three 3-pointers as the Rangers outscored the Rebels, 20-9.
“They changed it up on the defensive end a little bit and made us do some things but once Abby started rolling and those threes started falling then everybody starts to play a little harder on the defensive end,” Force said. “There was a good energy pick up there in the third.”
Thanks to Carter, North outscored South in the third quarter, 20-9, and kept up a torrid pace into the fourth quarter when the Rangers scored 28 points to just 12 for the Rebels.
Carter has struggled in recent games but this breakout performance came at the right time as the Rangers are looking ahead to the postseason.
“We tell her to have a short memory,” Force said. “She’s an excellent athlete and excellent player. She just has to maintain her confidence and her energy level and take good shots, which we feel she’s been doing. Fortunately for us, they started going in.”
South’s success in the first half faded in the second.
Minch managed just four points as the Rebels struggled to set up their offense in the half-court.
“We turned it over four times in that third quarter and they turned it into eight to 10 points and that’s when the wheels came off,” said South coach Mike Coreno. “Playing from behind is hard for us. We played well in the first quarter and we were winning, and in the second quarter, we almost played even. We said we had to win the third quarter but we fell apart. The turnovers killed us and we didn’t make a couple of shots.”
While North’s pressure created problems for the Rebels, it was distributing the ball out of the corners that prevented South from getting to the hoop.
“The turnovers happened in the half-court,” Coreno said. “We didn’t turn the ball over against their press and we didn’t throw it out of bounds. We broke their press and got it into the half-court and with their pressure coming out at us we put the ball in the corners instead of cutting in front of them. We kept trying to dribble around them and it got to us.”
The Rebels had three players score in double figures.
Molly McLaughlin pitched in with 13 points and Emma Woolnough finished with 10.
McLaughlin’s output was a career-high.
“Offensively for me, I have been trying to stay open for the kick-out when someone drives and the defense collapses,” she said. “My jump shot fell nicely and my confidence increased with every made shot.”
Despite the loss, McLaughlin is confident the Rebels are jelling at the right time.
“As always, the North-South game brings not only nerves but also intense motivation to beat our rivals,” she said. “Our team has been getting together well recently and it was exciting to see how nicely our energy worked against North.”
North improved to 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the Western Reserve Conference while South fell to 2-7, 2-4.