EASTLAKE—North’s offense averages nearly 60 points a game but its defense deserves its share of the credit for the team’s success this season.
The Rangers set out in Thursday’s Division I sectional championship game against visiting Kenston to make a defensive statement. By allowing just nine second half points in their 44-22 win, they did just that.
“I’m real pleased,” said North coach Paul Force of his team’s defensive effort. “We were able to change up defenses just enough, not a ton, but just enough to keep them off balance a little bit. It was a big point of emphasis to keep them off the free throw line. They rely on transition and free throws to get a lot of their points so we felt if we could make them a half court team and take difficult shots they would have trouble scoring and they did.”
Kenston converted on just 8 of 53 shots from the floor and the Bombers’ starters accounted for just six points in the game.
The Rangers out rebounded the Bombers, 44-21, and forced 12 turnovers. Kenston shot just four free throws in the game.
“We felt if we controlled the boards, offensive and defensive boards, then we would be headed to the districts,” Force said. “We thought a team like Kenston would have to beat us in the rebound battle, beat us in the turnover battle and beat us to loose balls, so we put a lot of emphasis the last couple of days on rebounding offensively and defensively. Also, it kind of makes you a little better taking those open shots when you know you’ve got three or four girls that are going to crash in there and give everything they’ve got to get a second shot for our team. I was proud to see that.”
North jumped out to an early 13-2 lead before the Bombers went on a 10-0 run to pull to within 15-12 midway through the second quarter.
The Rangers regrouped and scored the final four points of the first half to take a 19-12 lead into the locker room.
“We had a great start,” Force said. “We talked about coming out with a lot of emotion and keeping that emotion level high. Luckily we were able to make some shots early and get stops. I feel like that set the tone. To Kenston’s credit, they always play hard and are well-coached. They made a run at us in the second quarter and cut the lead a little bit. We still felt pretty good at halftime having a little bit of the lead we did.”
Thanks to the individual performance of Anaunda Lyons, who scored five straight points in the third quarter, the Rangers extended their lead to 33-20 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We kind of challenged all of them but certainly Anaunda at halftime a little bit to come out a little more aggressive and make an impact on the game,” Force said. “She’s a heck of a player and she showed that in the third quarter. For her, it’s more a matter of confidence and varsity level experience than it is skill. She can play. She showed that in that quarter and that’s big for us because they were keying on Destiny and Samantha.”
Samantha Pirosko led the Rangers with 22 points and 16 rebounds, both game highs. Destiny Leo scored nine points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Lyons finished with seven points and six boards.
Valerie Arnold pitched in with five points and four rebounds.
Julie Hajdu led Kenston with eight points while Corenna Maynard finished with six for the Bombers, who finished the season with an 11-13 record.
North improved to 19-4 on the year.
The 19 wins are the most since Force took over the program in 2008. The Rangers won 18 games twice in the past eight seasons.
“It feels amazing to be a part of this team,” said Ally Lako, North’s lone senior. “We work together well and we all love each other and I’ll be proud when people look back at this team and I was a part of it.”
Now the Rangers have another opportunity to set a new program standard when they play top-seeded Mentor on Monday in the Perry District semifinals.
Force is 0-6 against Mentor.
“The girls are excited,” he said. “You don’t talk about Lake County basketball without Mentor coming up. We haven’t seen them in quite some time at the varsity level. It’s something I know they’ll be pumped for. Motivation won’t be a factor on Monday. They’ve got a great team and a great program. People talk about them for a reason but we’re certainly excited for the challenge.”
North 44, Kenston 22
Kenston (11-13): Hadju 8, Maynard 6, Oglesbee 4, Spehn 2, Peterson 2, Taylor 0, Sferra 0, Adams 0, Krys 0, Rendelsham 0, Horn 0, Apshago 0
North (19-4): Lako 0, Pirosko 22, Lyons 7, Arnold 5, Leo 9, Stuart 1, Chlad 0, T Valaitis 0, S Valaitis 0, Hamilton 0, Weber 0, Johnston 0
Kenston 2 10 8 2 — 22
North 13 6 14 11 — 44
Field goals: Kenston 8 of 53, North 19 of 49; Free throws: Kenston 3 of 4, North 4 of 8; 3-pointers: Kenston 3 (Hadju 2, Maynard), North 2 (Arnold, Lyons); Rebounds: Kenston 21, North 44 (Pirosko 16); Assists: Kenston 5, North 11 (Leo 4); Turnovers: Kenston 12, North 14