The Westlake girls basketball team led all night during a Jan. 14 contest at North Ridgeville, but that lead was evaporating.

Up 33-29 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Demons surrendered a second-chance basket to Rangers guard Brynnley Kerr, then fouled her with 5:44 left to send her to the free throw line, where she made one of two attempts.

A Demon advantage that peaked at eight points in the first half was down to just one, 33-32, and the Rangers looked a step faster as they continued to play at both ends with laser focus.

Demons forward Morgan Kress sensed what it would take to fend them off.

“I would say we needed to play lockdown defense”, Kress said. “We needed to make sure we were boxing out and make sure we didn’t throw any bad passes and make free throws.”

The sophomore connected on a three-point play with 5:15 left, and the team responded with a 17-5 run the rest of the way that sealed a 50-37 win. When it got tough, Westlake, which came off of a COVID-19 quarantine just days earlier, found ways to execute with the game hanging in the balance, creating and making key shots.

“I was proud to see our girls, even in situations where the score got close, build up confidence to take the shots if they’re there,” Demons coach Cory Rojeck said.

The Demons (7-0, 6-0 Southwestern Conference) managed to stay unbeaten thanks to Kress’ quick bucket and foul shot, then boosted the lead to 38-32 with 4:40 left when Taylor Gregory banked in a transition layup. Summer Salem’s right-handed runner one minute later made it 40-34, and Anna Williams’ rim-rattling 3-pointer with 1:47 to go put them up by nine.

A pair of free throws by Salem put them up by double-digits, and the Rangers (7-5, 2-5 SWC), who committed four turnovers in the fourth quarter and shot 2-of-15 during those eight minutes, were unable to recover.

“I think we may have been running out of gas, too,” said Rangers coach Amy Esser, who noted that her team was playing for the second straight evening. “I thought we had an awesome effort tonight,” Rangers coach Amy Esser said. “We played hard from start to finish and we had a lot of kids that got in, got minutes and got a lot of experience.”

Kress led Westlake with a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double and blocked three shots. Gregory and Gigi Redinger each scored seven points. Collectively, their team held the Rangers to 25% shooting for the night.

The Demons, who’d played Padua two nights before, appeared locked in defensively in the first quarter and used a late 9-2 surge to go ahead 14-8. Abbie Gardner’s bucket to start the second gave them their biggest lead, 16-8, before the Rangers started to push back thanks to the successful use of a 2-3 zone defense.

Baskets by Grace Kingery and Becca Bradley, and a free throw by Mady Rosado, cut the deficit to 16-15, and after some back-and-forth, late scores by Kress and Gregory kept the Demons up, 23-18, at halftime. The teams battled throughout the third, with Kress’ transition score with 1:20 left keeping Westlake ahead, 33-29, just before the fourth quarter.

In crunchtime, the Demons were able to hang on.

“Tonight, taking it from a one-point game and increasing it to a 13-point game, that’s a testament to the girls starting to trust themselves and be more confident in their playmaking ability,” Rojeck said.

Kerr led North Ridgeville with 13 points and six rebounds while Kingery, who’d scored 26 points the night before, was held to just six while being defended by the determined Williams.

“(Westlake) just hit some key shots, while we got ourselves in a hole,” Esser said. “We couldn’t get our offense moving. We got some looks, but we couldn’t get any to fall.”

Westlake will travel today to North Olmsted for a 7 p.m. start, while North Ridgeville will host rival Midview at 7 p.m.

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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