EASTLAKE—North entered Saturday’s matchup against Western Reserve Conference rival Brush intent on proving to the rest of the league—and future post-season opponents—that the Rangers aren’t to be taken lightly.
They did that with a convincing 66-48 win over the Arcs, who are ranked No. 5 in the latest Ohio Division I AP Poll.
“Big win for the girls,” said North coach Paul Force. “Brush had already clinched the conference so we talked a lot about coming in and playing more for pride. We feel like we’re one of the top teams in the WRC and we had a chance to prove that today, conference championship or not, and I think the girls kind of took that to heart.”
Brush, won the first matchup over the No. 10 Rangers and earned at least a share of the conference title when North lost to Chardon last weekend.
North has to beat Mayfield this week and Madison has to pull off an upset over the Arcs for the Rangers to earn a share of the WRC crown.
“We just have to focus on what we control,” Force said. “If things go our way, we’re not opposed to that. We’ve just got to focus on our preparation for Mayfield and whatever else happens, we let that go.”
North led by just four points at halftime and entered the fourth quarter up, 38-34.
That’s when the Rangers took control of the game.
Destiny Leo, who finished with 17 points for the Rangers, got things started early in the final frame. Samantha Pirosko made it 42-36 then recorded a steal and hit a pair of free throws to give the Rangers an eight-point lead, their biggest of the game.
Ariel DeBase’s and-one pulled Brush to within 44-41 but that’s as close as the Arcs would get.
Valerie Arnold hit a 3-pointer then added another bucket to make it 50-44. Her defensive rebound led to a pair of Ally Lako free throws and Arnold hit another three to push the Rangers’ lead to 55-44 with 3:12 left in the game.
Arnold scored eight of her 13 in the fourth quarter.
“She has been great this year at embracing her role,” Force said of Arnold. “We talk about not accepting your role but embracing your role and she has done that on the defensive and offensive end. She’s one that doesn’t go try to play outside of herself. She trusts her teammates, she knows what her role is and she just makes the simple play and she knows if she catches that ball with space then she’s supposed to shoot it. Tonight they were going in and I am proud of her.”
Pirosko was held to just eight points in the loss at Brush earlier this season.
She finished with a team-high 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the rematch.
“We watched some film from that first game and felt like Samantha forced some things,” Force said. “We had a couple kick-out opportunities for open shots that she didn’t take advantage of and was trying to do a little bit too much and with her statistics that’s understandable. She knows girls look to her to produce and today I thought she was a little bit more selective. She didn’t force as many tough shots and she trusted her teammates on kick-outs.”
The Rangers outscored the Arcs, 28-14, in the final eight minutes of play. They hit on 7-of-7 shots from the floor and converted 12 of 14 free throw tries.
Lako also scored in double figures for the Rangers with 13 and Anaunda Lyons added four.
Defensively, the Rangers held Brush standouts DeBase and Jenna Perryto just 13 points total after they combined for 31 in the first game. Perry hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of that game.
“We really wanted to key in on making it difficult for (DeBase) and Perry,” Force said. “I pretty much told the girls that Debase is going to get her 10-15 or 10-18. You know she is tough to stop. She’s a heck of a player and she is going to be a good little college pickup for whatever school she commits to, but I thought we battled and made her work for her points and we didn’t give Perry a lot of space on the perimeter.”
The Arcs hit on just 1 of 13 threes in the fourth quarter.
North improved to 16-3 overall and 11-2 in the WRC while Brush dropped to 18-3, 12-1.
The two teams may get a chance to break the series tie as the Arcs earned the No. 2 seed and the Rangers drew the fourth in the Perry Division I District Tournament.
North 66, Brush 48
Brush (18-3): Debase 10, Dajanay Sanders 21, Jackson 2, Paxton 2, Perry 3, Martin 8, Lester 2
North (16-3): Lako 13, Pirosko 20, Lyons 4, Arnold 13, Leo 17
Brush 15 10 9 14 — 48
North 12 17 9 28 — 66
Field goals: Brush 19 of 52, North 21 of 40; Free throws: Brush 4 of 5, North 17 of 20; 3-pointers: Brush 6 (Dajanay Sanders 5, Debase 1), North 7 (Arnold 3, Lako 2, Leo 2); Rebounds: Brush 23 (DeBase 6), North 31 (Pirosko 10); Assists: Brush 10 (Morrer 3), North 12 (Pirosko 4, Lako 4); JV: North def. Brush, 32-31