Destiny Leo scored 17 points in the second half and Anaunda Lyons made several key plays in North’s 52-49 win at Cleveland Heights on Saturday.
The Rangers, who entered the game ranked No. 15 in the Cleveland.com Top 25, outscored the No. 7 Tigers, 15-9, in the fourth quarter to improve to 7-2 overall.
“It was a game of runs,” said North coach Paul Force. “We want to see teams like this to help us get better and learn what we need to improve on. It’s more fun to pull negatives out of a win than it is to pull positives out of a loss, but we know we didn’t play our best basketball. We have to continue to defend better and execute on the offensive end better than we are. I’m proud of the fight and resiliency we showed to come from behind to beat a pretty good basketball team, but we aren’t where we want to be yet and we know that.”
Cleveland Heights led 15-12 after the first quarter and 28-22 at halftime.
Samantha Pirosko, who finished with 16 points, scored 10 in the first half to keep the Rangers within striking distance despite Leo being held scoreless in the first 16 minutes.
Lyons then scored five straight points off a 3-pointer and a driving layup to fuel North’s second half run.
“Coming into the second half, I had hopes of making plays on the offensive and defensive end,” Lyons said. “The pressure they had on Destiny meant that we all had to step up a little more, whether it was scoring or getting the ball into Sam on the inside. Defensively, I was hoping that I could pick up the pace a little when they got out in transition running harder and faster to defend the paint rather than them getting layup after layup.”
Taylor Valaitis, Val Arnold and Maddy Hamilton all hit key 3-pointers to loosen the pressure on Leo.
“(Leo) stepped up and I know people will talk about that, deservedly so, but in the third quarter Anaunda came out with five straight points and Taylor, Val and Maddy knocking down threes to go with a 10-point half from Samantha, it all matters,” Force said. “We can’t win one on five, we have to rely on each other and take advantage of whatever our opponents are giving to us. I feel like with each game we are learning to do that a little more. We knew it would take focus, discipline and toughness to come in here and get a win and we did just enough to put ourselves in a good position down the stretch of this one.”
Lyons hit a pair of free throws with seven seconds left to give the Rangers their three-point lead and Leo got a hand on the Tigers’ game-tying 3-pointer at the end to seal it.
“At the line, the only thing that was in my head was, ‘I have to make these shots to put these guys away,’” Lyons said. “My girls were counting on me and I just felt like I had to make those shots and not let them down.”
North converted 8-of-22 3-point attempts with Leo connecting on three and Valaitis finishing 2-for-2 behind the arc.
Lyons finished with seven points and a team-high four steals, Valaitis contributed with six points and Arnold and Hamilton both pitched in with three.
Pirosko notched her seventh double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
North 52, Cleveland Heights 49
North (7-2): T. Valaitis 6, Arnold 3, Lyons 7, Hamilton 3, Leo 17, Pirosko 16
Cleveland Heights (6-1): Nichols 18, Williams 11, Rhodes 6, Hicks 6, Weaver 8
North 12 10 15 15 — 52
Cleveland Heights 15 13 12 9 — 49
Free throws: North 6 of 6, Cleveland Heights 5 of 8; 3-pointers: Cleveland Heights 2 (Nichols 2), North 8 (Leo 3, T. Valaitis 2, Lyons, Hamilton, Arnold); Rebounds: Cleveland Heights 33, North 29 (Pirosko 11); Assists: Cleveland Heights 10, North 13 (T. Valaitis 3)