Perry’s four seniors wouldn’t be denied their opportunity to extend their season and defend their home turf one last time.
The Pirates held a double-digit lead over visiting Aurora in a Division II sectional final on Saturday but the Greenmen used a 13-0 run to cut the Perry lead to just one possession down the stretch.
Perry held on to win the sectional title, 49-45, and advanced to play Streetsboro in a district semifinal on Wednesday at Nordonia.
“All four of our seniors are captains for us and you usually don’t have four captains on a team, but they’re all good leaders and they do things differently in a really good way, so this was big for them,” said Perry coach Roy Infalvi. “I thought about that coming into today. This was the last time for them on this court and we wanted to come out and have a good showing. Down the stretch, they just had it in them. They were like, ‘We’re not losing this game and we’re going to do whatever it takes.’ They do that in practice every day too, and that’s what makes this team so much fun and our success is because they work hard day in and day out.”
Each of the four seniors had a hand in holding off the Greenmen.
Kaitlyn Newsome sparked the Pirates early in the first quarter with a pair of 3-pointers to help Perry jump out to an early 7-2 lead. She finished with eight points and was a defensive thorn in the side of the Greenmen throughout the game.
Grace McKoon and Izzy McKoon combined for 30 points and their aggressiveness driving to the hoop earned Perry 17 trips to the free throw line in the first half as the Pirates built a 29-18 lead at the break.
After allowing Aurora standout Sam Staska, a Tiffin commit, 11 points in the first quarter, the Pirates adjust and limited her to just 10 points the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Perry’s offense fed off its aggressive defense and the Pirates took all the momentum into the break.
“We played a really good first half,” Infalvi said. “That was probably one of the best first halves we played. We came out to start the third quarter and they kept it up and played really well.”
Perry outscored Aurora in the first four minutes of the third quarter, 11-6, to build a 40-24 lead.
The next eight minutes belonged to Aurora, who went on a 13-0 run to pull to within 40-37 before Grace McKoon’s layup midway through the fourth snapped Perry’s scoring drought.
“They’re a team that’s really good defensively and they have some really good players that are really good rebounders,” Infalvi said of Aurora. “They’ve had games before where they’ve been behind, and they keep fighting and come back, so we knew the game wasn’t over by any stretch, and they were going to keep fighting. They did some good things that hurt us a little bit, but I was proud of the way we kept our composure, then down in the stretch in the fourth quarter, finally got some good buckets and kind of broke their press and double-team a little bit.”
While Stask hurt the Pirates in the first quarter, Brooke Pierce did it in the fourth.
The freshman guard drained a 3-pointer and went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final eight minutes to give Aurora a fighting chance.
Perry’s offense wasn’t at its best in the final 12 minutes, but the Pirates maintained their intensity on defense with senior Sophia Makad making a difference in the paint.
Makad pulled down clutch rebounds and blocked or altered several shots to help the Pirates secure their win despite their second-half struggles.
“They changed some things and kind of tried to change the tempo up a little bit and rush us, and give them credit, they did that a little bit,” Infalvi said. “I think we got a little out of control and tried to do a little bit too much instead of taking what was given to us. In the first half, we were kind of able to dictate what we wanted to do and we got to the hole and had some good passes and finishes, and we hit some outside shots. Midway through the third quarter, they changed what they were doing and they got deflections and steals.”
Grace McKoon led the Pirates with 17 points and Izzy McKoon also scored in double figures with 13. Newsome contributed with eight, Makad scored four, Audrey Austin added three, and Victoria Lynch and Rosalyn Tharp both finished with two points in the win.