PERRY—North and Chardon entered Monday’s Division I district semifinal in Perry with more in common than their desire to earn a spot in Thursday’s championship game.
The Rangers, who held off the Hilltoppers, 43-39, entered the 2018-2019 season having graduated seven seniors, including Samantha Pirosko, the school’s all-time leading scorer, while the Hilltoppers also lost several key players to graduation then suffered season-ending injuries to two starters before the start of the first game.
Needless to say, both head coaches were excited to be in a one-possession game with 10 seconds left in regulation.
“They made it a little hectic there at the end and got themselves some extra opportunities,” North coach Paul Force said. “I’d have liked to see us finish the game off a little better but at the end of the day at this time of the year, it’s just win and move on and that’s what we were able to do.”
The Hilltoppers weren’t able to convert on their final possession of the game and Maddy Hamilton drained a free throw at the other end to close out the scoring, but Chardon head coach Cullen Harris was pleased with his team’s competitive spirit throughout the contest.
“Absolutely, I’d have taken that scenario,” Harris said of the opportunity to tie the game at the end. “I loved the options we had and I loved what our kids did and I’m happy with all of them.”
Chardon opened the game on a 9-2 run and led 14-7 after the first quarter.
“They came out with a lot of energy and knocking down shots, which we expected them to,” Force said. “Coach Harris does a great job and they’ve got a lot of seniors. A team with that many seniors is not going to be an easy out in late February and we knew that. I was proud of how we responded to that but I would have liked to see us come out a little stronger.”
Behind Destiny Leo, who drained a pair of 3-pointers on the way to a game-high 18 points, the Rangers mounted a comeback in the second quarter and took a 24-21 lead into the break.
They extended that lead to 34-28 headed into the fourth quarter.
“As the game wore on, I think our physicality and our rebounding wore on them a little bit,” Force said.
North’s defense also factored into the win.
The Rangers used a 67-64 loss at Mayfield on Jan. 23 as inspiration to buckle down on defense. In their nine wins since their only setback of the year, the Rangers held seven opponents to less than 40 points per contest.
“I think we’re sneaky good on defense,” Force said. “I think a lot of people focus on how we can score the ball but I was proud of how we defended and rebounded today.”
North limited Chardon’s top scorers—Sydney Feller and Danni McCartney—to a combined seven points. Feller finished with six while McCartney had one.
Sam Liechty and Grace Koppelman both led the Hilltoppers with eight points each and Kayla Noerr contributed with six. Anna Thompson and Lindsey Nichols each added four.
“Undoubtedly, we were playing our best basketball at the end of the year,” Harris said of the Hilltoppers. “We played North like six days ago; we played them to seven and we played them to three or four tonight, whatever it ended up being, and that’s a team who has lost one game all year. We’re the only team to hold them in the low 40s all year. That’s a credit to our kids and what we accomplished but basketball is a game of making or missing shots and we had a couple that didn’t go our way. They made a couple of nice shots and made their free throws. Ultimately, you can’t control a lot of those things. You can control your energy and effort. That’s what we teach and what we preach and that’s what our kids did. They gave it 110-percent all year long. I’m happy and proud of them.”
Abby Carter also scored in double figures for the Rangers with 11 points and Maddy Hamilton finished with six. Avril Drew and Taylor Valaitis each scored four points for the Rangers, who advanced to the district championship game for the second straight season.
“Minus seven seniors and our all-time leading scorer, to wind up here again, if you would have told me this a year ago, I don’t know that I would have believed that,” Force said. “It’s a credit to how these girls prepare. They play hard, they love each other and that’s what we’re all about. We get to come to practice tomorrow.”
North will play No. 2 Euclid on Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
North 43, Chardon 39
Chardon (15-9): Thompson 4, Nichols 4, Feller 6, Liechty 8, Noerr 6, McCartney 1, Koppelman 8
North (23-1): Carter 11, M. Hamilton 6, Leo 18, Drew 4, Valaitis 4
Chardon 14 7 7 11 — 39
North 7 17 10 9 — 43
Free throws: Chardon 7 of 13, North 16 of 22; 3-pointers: Chardon 4 (Feller 2, Liechty 2), North 3 (Leo 2, M. Hamilton 1); Rebounds: Chardon 23, North 42 (Leo 14); Assists: Chardon 10, North 8 (M. Hamilton 3)