PERRY—Mentor earned the top seed at the Division I Perry District for a reason and the Cardinals showed why several times in their 55-46 win over fourth-seeded North in a semifinal matchup on Monday.
The Cardinals used a 5-0 run to end the first quarter with a 17-13 lead and carried that momentum over into the second as they built a double-digit advantage at halftime, 34-24.
The Rangers pulled to within five in the fourth quarter but the Cardinals hit their free throws down the stretch to advance to Thursday’s district championship game against Euclid, a 43-42 winner over Brush in the first semifinal.
“What stands out to me a little bit is at the end of the first quarter and definitely into the second quarter, we came out riding some emotion and hit some shots,” said North coach Paul Force. “I think we took a 13-12 lead and then they went on a 5-0 run to close that quarter and then opened up a little bit of space for themselves in the second quarter. Against a team like Mentor, they’re a one seed for a reason; you put yourself down by 10, that’s going to be a hard mountain to climb.”
North senior Ally Lako’s 3-pointer gave the Rangers its first lead of the game with 1:07 left in the opening quarter.
Mentor’s Gianna Pegoraro changed that in a hurry.
Pegoraro hit a 3-pointer with 48 seconds left in the quarter then hit back-to-back 3s in the second to help the Cardinals push their lead to double digits.
Mentor’s defensive pressure kept North from establishing standout junior Samantha Pirosko in the first half.
She finished with 10 points but just two in the first 16 minutes.
“We do a lot of things in the half-court offense,” Force said. “I think that was probably one thing they were trying to accomplish was trying to keep us out of rhythm offensively. I think we only ended up with 12 or 13 turnovers, we didn’t throw the ball away to them and give them transition points, but it did take us out of what we wanted to do on the offensive end until too late in the game. We got it rolling a little bit with good spacing and good ball movement in the fourth quarter but by that point it was too late. We cut it to five, cut it to six, but we didn’t have enough time.”
Freshman Destiny Leo led the Rangers with 16 points.
“Destiny I think settled in in that second half a little bit and got some big buckets for us,” Force said. “This is the first time she’s been in this kind of a game at this level. I think early on she was a little juiced up but I was glad to see her come out aggressive. She’s got the mindset that she can change a game offensively or defensively. I was happy to see her come out aggressive. When she settled into the game you saw a little bit of what she could do on the offensive end. It will be a big off-season for her. I can’t imagine what she’s going to look like in two or three years.”
Pegoraro hit a pair of fourth quarter free throws to once again push Mentor’s lead to double digits but the Rangers responded when Leo scored four straight points to cut the lead to 49-43.
A pair of Leo free throws with two minutes left in the game pulled the Rangers to within 51-45 but Nicole Heffington and Carlie Swider converted at the charity stripe to seal the Mentor win.
“To our girls’ credit, I was pleased with how we played and battled on the defensive end,”
Force said. “We made some key buckets to cut it to five or six. It’s just hard to overcome a 10 points deficit against a good team like that.”
Mentor converted on 18 of 19 free throw tries while North was 10 of 14.
Heffington led the Cardinals with a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds while Pegoraro finished with 16 points.
Pirosko pulled down a team-high nine rebounds for the Rangers, who closed out the season with a 19-5 record.
Mentor 55, North 46
North: Leo 16, Pirosko 10, Lako 10, Lyons 5, Arnold 3, Stuart 2, Valaitis 0
Mentor: Heffington 19, Pegoraro 16, Fillar 9, Moyer 7, Swider 4
North 13 11 8 14 — 46
Mentor 17 17 9 12 — 55
Field goals: North 16 of 43, Mentor 16 of 39; Free throws: North 10 of 14, Mentor 18 of 19; 3-pointers: North 4 (Lako 2, Leo, Arnold), Mentor 5 (Heffington 2, Pegoraro, Fillar, Moyer); Rebounds: North 27 (Pirosko 10), Mentor 27 (Heffington 11); Assists: North 9 (Lyons 4), Mentor 10 (Moyer 4).