With more experience under their collective belt, the young Westlake Demons girls basketball team will eventually be prepared to weather the type of nonstop defensive pressure opponents like Olmsted Falls Bulldogs deploy.
For now, though, there isn’t an answer.
In a rare piece of scheduling that could only take place in a disjointed regular season like 2020-21, the Demons and Bulldogs met twice last week, with five days between meetings. The more seasoned Bulldogs, currently the class of the Southwestern Conference, ran away with both, winning 62-31 on Jan. 18 and again, 66-36, on Jan. 23.
The song was the same both times. The Bulldogs (14-1, 11-0 SWC) created chaos–and turnovers–defensively by pressuring across the court and contesting everything. The more methodical Demons, strong in their own right defensively, just weren’t able to keep up.
First-year Demons coach Cory Rojeck said after the Jan. 23 loss that he didn’t try to change much between the two games. His team just ran into an opponent that was more comfortable playing their particular style.
“They’re a very good team,” Rojeck said. “Their seven kids who play a lot, their seniors, they’re really sharp in what they do. I wouldn’t say we tried to do things differently, but we tried to limit turnovers...There’s really no defense for when they’re getting a lot of turnovers.”
The Bulldogs harassed the visiting Demons (9-2, 8-2 SWC) into 18 turnovers during that second matchup, 14 of which were steals. Of those 14 steals, eight were converted into 17 points at the other end.
To make matters worse, when the Demons got good looks at the basket the shots didn’t fall. They shot 25% from the field, 27% on 3-pointers, and only scored in double figures during one quarter. It allowed the Bulldogs to jump out to a big lead early and take command of the game.
“(Falls) makes it tough to do some of the things we want to accomplish on offense,” Rojeck said. “It’s the same against any team that pressures like that. What it comes down to is that we’ve got to make better plays out of scrambles. They’re not a team that will let you dribble to the top and get into a set that you want to run. So we have to make plays off of scrambles, and as coaches that’s something we’re going to have to work on with our girls.”
Olmsted Falls used seven Westlake turnovers and a pair of quick 6-0 runs to build a 16-5 lead by the end of the first quarter. A 9-0 run in the second period helped push the lead to 32-14 at halftime. The Demons found some success in the third quarter, scoring 14 points and matching the Bulldogs’ output, but were in too deep of a hole. The deficit never got less than 15 points.
Both teams emptied their benches in the final period, with the Bulldogs outscoring the Demons 18-8 during the final eight minutes.
Unwavering defensive effort remains the Bulldogs’ greatest advantage, and coach Jordan Eaton said that tenacity comes from maximizing practice minutes.
“That’s a group of kids deciding they’re going to come to practice with the right attitude,” Eaton said. “You don’t get good at defense by playing hard in games. You get good at defense every day, and it’s become a habit for us. Our kids have really bought into that, and I’m proud of them for that.”
Sophomores Mia Kalich and Paige Kohler scored 15 and 10 points, respectively, to lead the Bulldog offense. Kalich added six rebounds, seven steals and a block. Grace Simon and Sara Glover each chipped in nine points, and Lauren Galaska scored six with a team-high eight rebounds.
In a reserve role, Katie Whitesell led the Demons with 13 points. Summer Salem scored 10, and Abbie Gardner added seven points and a team-high five boards.
“As a coach, let me wear the loss,” Rojeck said. “There’s things we’ve got to do better, and as a coaching staff we’ve got to put them in positions to learn and do better. I just want the girls to focus on coming back the next day and giving everything they have.”
Westlake heads to Avon today for a 7 p.m. meeting.
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