By Amy Rutledge
The night started quickly for the fifth-seeded Lady Rockets. They took the lead early and never looked back, upsetting the fourth-seeded Clearview Clippers 57-31.
Rockets head coach Chris Brewer said he’s real pleased with how the team is performing in the tournaments.
“We had little speed bumps throughout the season, and it took us awhile to get back on our feet; but over these last couple of weeks we’ve been really getting back together and for the first time just playing excellent basketball,” he said. “They’re really playing unselfish ball and great defense.
“When it comes down to tournament time, the physical play always goes up a notch,” he added. “There are things that just don’t get called. They let the play happen. We have started to understand that. We got good experience going against a very physical team (Padua) on Monday. That really helped us tonight.”
After taking an 18-8 lead in the first quarter, the Rockets (14-8) put up six straight points in the second quarter, to take a 17-point lead over Clearview. A 3-pointer by Kaleigh Sima finished the half with the Rockets up 35-17.
Being a lower seed really motivated Bay in this game, and throughout the tournament season.
“We were bummed that we didn’t get that fourth seed,” Brewer said. “I thought we had done enough throughout the season, with the schedule that we had played (to get a higher seed). We felt like we got – a little bit of – lack of respect for the schedule we played going into the tournament draw. We have used that as a bit of motivation.”
In the third quarter, shots went back and forth, but the Clippers were not able to do any damage to the Rockets’ lead. Even with a significant 21-point lead going into the fourth quarter, the Rockets did not back down, and added eight more points, to Clearview’s three. Again, the Rockets were able to finish the quarter, and the game, with a 3-pointer, this time by Maria Passalacqua.
Having multiple players with good scoring capabilities is a big strength of the Rockets’ offense.
“We have four kids that are averaging eight-plus points,” Brewer said. “It’s nice to have that balance; if one kid’s getting defended a certain way, we can pop it off to someone else and score.”
There were nine players who put up points for the Lady Rockets, including Claire Wilson, who led the Rockets with 16 points, and Taylor Seton, close behind with 11. Sima added nine points, while Jillian White had six. Claire Werblak contributed five points, and Passalacqua and Rachael Williams each had three. Sophie Steyns and Emma Grubaugh each had two points.
Both Sislowski and Brewer credit their bench for contributing some solid minutes.
“I thought tonight it was the bench,” Sislowski said. “We had some young kids out there. I thought Katie Kocher, McKenna Klodnick and Sarah Lesiecki raised the tempo. That’s what instigated the run.”
“It’s nice to see our subs kind of understanding what it really takes,” Brewer said. “When they’re coming in, they provide those solid minutes to give those starters a break. We were really happy to get some of those kids out there. Most of them got in throughout different spots, but it’s nice to get them out there for a couple minutes.
“With those seniors that they have, they can present a dominating presence on the floor.”
Sislowski had two words in regard to the next game: “Play defense.”
In the second game of the night, the Rocky River Pirates (16-6) got off to a slow start as they battled Buckeye, but were still able to capture a 50-24 win.
“It was just the tempo of the game,” said Pirates head coach Michael Sislowski. “We played a slow tempo when our style is to pick it up, pressure and play faster. When you play these teams that love their zones, you either settle for their tempo or you raise it. The first half we settled. As a result they slowed down the possessions and did a great job defensively. We scored 18 points in the first half. Not acceptable.”
Rocky River started the game with an eight-point run before Buckeye was able to get on the board with two points. A basket by Ciara Kessler finished the quarter with the Pirates up 10-2. Buckeye was able to close in on the lead in the second quarter, coming within five, but the Pirates were able to maintain their lead, finishing the half at 18-9.
“We didn’t think the energy level was there,” Sislowski said. “We know what our girls are capable of doing when they play defense with their feet at that higher energy level. That’s all we talked about at halftime, was raising the tempo and getting after them with our feet and playing Rocky River defense.”
After a disappointing first half, both teams remained scoreless the first four minutes of the third quarter. Two points by Annie Swartz began the Pirates’ 16-point run on Buckeye, driving the score to 34-11. Allyson Helleis took advantage of back-to-back turnovers by Buckeye with two easy layups.
The fourth quarter also proved to be successful for the Pirates as they stretched their lead to 19, and eventually to 29, points.
“We said the first half that they won,” Sislowski said. “We were up in the scoreboard, and the higher-seeded team, they won that first half. We said, Let’s make sure we come out quick in the second half and show them who’s going to win the second half.”
Leading the Pirates in scoring was Hannah McCue with 16 points, followed by Kessler with 15 points. Helleis put up nine points, while Jane Dickey and Katie Kocher each added three. Swartz and Katie McNally had two points each.
The Rockets and the Pirates will meet tomorrow night in the Division II district semifinals at Elyria High School. The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Rocky River has a record of 2-0 against Bay this season.