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    Tigers claw way to win at Kirtland


    KIRTLAND—Chagrin Falls edged host Kirtland 39-38 in a matchup of two of the Chagrin Valley Conference’s best teams on Thursday.

    The Tigers used a 21-point second quarter to create separation at halftime then held off a Kirtland rally in the second half to seal their win.

    “This is a tough gym to play in period,” Chagrin Falls coach Brittany Anderson said. “You try to prep for it as much as you can in practice but you can’t replicate this atmosphere. We knew they were going to play physical, we knew they were going to play scrappy and we knew they were going to have a run at some point in the game, which they did in the third quarter. It was one of those things of just endure it, weather the storm and try to push through as best as you can. I’m really pleased with our effort tonight.”

    Kirtland held a 7-4 lead after the first quarter but the Tigers found their offensive rhythm in the second quarter and outscored the Hornets, 21-9, to take a 25-16 lead into the break.

    Julia Santamaria scored seven of her game-high 15 points during that run and Carolyn Bencko added a pair of 3-pointers for the Tigers as they pulled away from the Hornets.

    Santamaria added seven points in the third but foul trouble sent her to the bench and the Hornets capitalized by pulling to within 32-27 with eight minutes left to play.

    “I don’t want her sitting on the bench for long because she makes all these fantastic hustle plays and she’s just a presence out there,” Anderson said of Santamaria. “She has a high basketball IQ and knows what to do on offense and where to find the open player, so it was really tough to have to sit her for a few minutes here and there but we knew it was going to be a close game and that we’d need her in the home stretch.”

    Avery Houston came off the bench, Lily Karyo stepped into the post and Lydia Thombs also saw time in place of Santamaria in the fourth quarter.

    “People were able to step up in places they weren’t used to playing,” Anderson said.

    Kirtland outscored the Tigers in the second half, 22-14, but the Hornets connected on just 5-of-14 free throws and were outrebounded by Chagrin Falls, 31-21.

    “When you look at the final score, basically both teams I thought played pretty good defense but they were very aggressive defensively and we were struggling with ball movement and rushing our shots a little bit early on in the game. A few times we’d get a few shots up and then we’d go cold again,” Kirtland coach Bob Bell said. “In a game like that, a one-point game, it boils down to free throws and we were 5-for-14. Statistically, we both came in shooting about 60-percent and tonight I’d guess they shot better than that and we shot way below that.”

    Jenna Sayle led Kirtland with 11 points and Lauren Snyder pitched in with nine. Grace Wolfe, the team’s leading scorer, was limited to just four points as her playing time was limited due to early foul trouble.

    “We couldn’t keep her on the floor,” Bell said. “She was in foul trouble literally from the very beginning through the whole game.”

    A Sayle jump shot pulled Kirtland to within 37-34 with 2:17 left to play but Santamaria hit 1-of-2 free throws on the other end to make it a four-point game.

    Amber Yurick then connected on a pair of free throws to cut Kirtland’s deficit to 38-36. Carolyn Bencko then hit one free throw to make it 39-36 with 13 seconds left in the game.

    Snyder’s 3-point attempt was off the mark but Lauren Lutz, who pulled down a game-high seven rebounds, was there for the put back to cut Chagrin’s lead to 39-38 with 1.9 seconds remaining.

    Chagrin Falls’ inbounds pass was intercepted near the midcourt stripe but Snyder’s turn-around 3-pointer from half court fell short.

    “We didn’t lose our composure,” Anderson said. “We had times where we had some turnovers and some messy fouls but we didn’t let it get us down and we bounced back. We’ve really been working on that growth mindset this season and I think tonight it showed that we’ve made some progress and we’ve matured as a team.”

    The Tigers improved to 9-2 overall with a tough stretch of Chagrin Division on the docket. Chagrin hosts division leading Perry on Saturday then travels to Hawken on Jan. 9 and completes the week at West Geauga next Saturday.

    “Those are going to be grind it out games as well so I told them beforehand this game is great preparation for us to kind of see where we’re at,” Anderson said. “We’ve got this tune up and now we’ve got one day to rest our legs and then we get back it at with a CVC Chagrin game.”

    Kirtland dropped to 6-3 overall with a Valley Division showdown against Independence on Saturday. The winner takes over first place in the division.

    “I was pleased with the hustle tonight,” Bell said. “Our kids never gave up and played hard the whole game. It was just one of those nights where we just didn’t play very well and that’s going to happen. It’s unfortunate because that would have been a nice win for us.”

    Chagrin Falls 39, Kirtland 38

    Chagrin Falls (9-2): Santamaria 15, Barr 2, Bencko 7, Karyo 6, Kwasny 4, Dalessandro 5

    Kirtland (6-3): Snyder 9, Camino 6, Sayle 11, Lutz 4, Wolfe 4, Yurick 2, McIntosh 2

    Chagrin Falls 4 21 8 6 — 39
    Kirtland 7 9 11 11 — 38

    Free throws: CF 9 of 15, Kirtland 5 of 14; 3-pointers: CF 2 (Bencko 2), Kirtland 5 (Snyder 3, Camino 1, Sayle 1); Rebounds: Chagrin Falls 31, Kirtland 21 (Lutz 7); Assists: Kirtland 10 (Camino 3)

    Steve Hare
    The creator and publisher of, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for, a member of the network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. was created in 2004 and was a member of the network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.
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