Haley Andrejcak was among five seniors on the Bay girls basketball team waiting patiently to hold a pair of scissors and climb a ladder Saturday night. And she was more than happy to take her time.
After the 5-foot-9 forward led the Rockets with 22 points, seven rebounds and four steals and helped anchor a roving defense that swallowed Rocky River drives whole in the paint for four quarters, she and her teammates celebrated a commanding 60-35 victory in a Division II district final at Elyria High School.
The win secured a district three-peat for the top-seeded Rockets (20-5), who took a 24-9 lead over the second-seeded Pirates (19-6) after one quarter and never let up. They will face Willard Tuesday at Mansfield Senior High School in a regional semifinal.
“You work for this all season,” Andrejcak said. “We always say our season is just practice for the playoffs. And the nerves are definitely there, but the excitement of just being able to get to the finals, to get the chance to cut down this net and get that trophy, it’s a different kind of drive that you don’t get from a regular-season game.
“I think we all just wanted to win this so bad tonight that we knew we had to put it all out on the court, and we’re just so excited to get it,” she added.
Defense has long been the Rockets’ calling card and it once again set the tone early. They combined full-court pressure and a zone in the half-court to force seven Pirate turnovers in the first, and used a 12-0 run in the last four minutes to pull ahead by double-digits.
Knowing that Rocky River preferred to score around the rim, drives were funneled into the paint, where Bay’s significant height advantage altered shots. Bay’s six-foot junior Julia Costas, who was recently moved to the starting lineup, was a force right away, grabbing four rebounds, swiping a steal and blocking a shot in the first period. She finished with eight points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals, disrupting the Pirates’ offense all evening.
“We work on (defense) so hard”, said Costas, who transferred from Fairview after her sophomore year. “We just try to perfect our defense because playing awesome defense gives us easy, good things on offense. That’s what we do in practice all the time.”
While the seniors got to cut down the nets for the third time, Costas made a major impact from the opening tip in her first district title experience.
“This is pretty different,” Costas said of the win. “I’ve never done one of these before, so it’s pretty exciting…I knew what I was getting into (coming to Bay). I knew it was going to be a challenging experience. I’m really happy and excited to be a part of the team.”
The Rockets took a 36-19 lead at halftime by maintaining a consistent level of play. Including the 12-0 burst at the end of the first quarter, they outscored the Pirates 24-8 the rest of the half. They led 49-29 after the third and increased the margin to as many as 26 points midway through the fourth. Junior Audrey Hyland added eight points and senior Barb Aldridge scored six.
“Hats off to Bay,” Pirates coach Elaine Robinson said. “They’re a little older than us, a little more experienced. They’ve been in this situation before in the previous two years. We’ve never been here before, so for us, it was just a little bit different of an experience. Overall, I think we did a good job.”
In all, the Rockets forced 19 Pirate turnovers, blocked six shots and cleaned the glass with a 35-23 rebounding advantage. It was one of their best all-around performances of the season, at exactly the right time.
“It’s a good time of year that we’re playing well,” Rockets coach John Curran said. “To have that coincide with the district tournament is great. … The seniors stepped up and took charge of the team. In order to be good, your seniors really have to take charge.”
Maria Potts and Kelsey Murphy led the Pirates with 14 and 13 points, respectively, and each grabbed eight rebounds. Julia Potts and Taylor Spies each scored four, and the team’s frenetic defense caused 17 Rocket turnovers. Despite coming up short of their first district crown since 2012, there were reasons for optimism.
In one year, the Pirates improved their record by 10 wins and advanced deeper in the tournament. With only two seniors on the varsity roster in reserves Amanda Jones and Katie Brant, the entire starting lineup will return intact next season.
“I told them in the locker room that this is a special group of ladies right here,” Robinson said. “What this group accomplished this year, it’s a culture-building thing for Rocky River. So they need to hold their heads high and understand what we’re starting to do.”
For questions about this story call 440-871-5797.