North Ridgeville senior Leia Smith dribbles past an Amherst defender on the road on Nov. 27. Smith scored 10 points against the Comets.

The North Ridgeville Rangers girls basketball team played to its strengths in a 45-39 loss to Southwestern Conference rival Amherst last Wednesday.

The Rangers (1-1, 0-1 SWC) forced 18 turnovers using their brand of fast, aggressive defense and briefly held a 34-31 lead in the fourth quarter before a late 8-0 run by the Comets put the game away.

“Give Amherst credit. They play hard and they play fast,” Rangers coach Amy Esser said.

Offense was a struggle for the Rangers, who shot 19 percent from the field and 4-for-25 from three while committing 17 turnovers. But foul calls hurt them more. The Rangers were whistled 22 times to Amherst’s 16, including seven in the first and fourth quarters. The Comets (1-0, 1-0 SWC) benefitted with 26 free throws, making 15.

Free throws by Amherst’s Nora Wright, Faith Lewis and Amaya Staton in the fourth — 10 in all — put the game on ice. Still, Esser wouldn’t change much about her team’s effort. Her Rangers made 14 steals, led by junior guard Mady Rosado’s five.

“We had a lot of fouls early, a little overaggressive,” Esser said. “And it really hurt us at the end. But (the fouls) are a part of the game and it’s up to us how we handle that adversity…I liked our intensity, but I think we just got a little overaggressive reaching for the ball instead of letting Amherst make a mistake.”

The Comets put much of their defensive focus on returning All-SWC first-teamer Leia Smith, who finished with 10 points, along with five rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists. Rosado led the Rangers with 17 points. Freshman Laney Rumancik scored five. On Nov. 25, she led the team in scoring with 18 points in their 67-22 win over Maple Heights.

Rosado, who was named the SWC’s soccer Player of the Year in October, was often the team’s spark plug on both ends.

“She’s a big piece that we enjoy having this year,” Esser said. “She fits into what we want to do perfectly. She’s always good for a steal here or a three there.”

But as fouls mounted and shots continued to rim out, the Comets gradually found their footing. Staton, a 6-foot-1 senior post, showed off a diverse skillset with 15 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and three steals. Along with 5-11 Anna Cairns (six points, eight rebounds), the combo helped the Comets out-rebound the smaller Rangers 33-28 and alter drives to the basket all evening.

“(North Ridgeville’s) defense was incredible,” Comets coach Jay Valadez said. “Amy’s got them playing lights out defense. So we focused on getting Amaya the ball and letting her create (in the second half), whether that be off the dribble or a long jump shot. She’s a difference-maker.”

A rough shooting night by the Comets (29% from the floor) gave the Rangers life as they led the entire first half and took a 20-18 lead into halftime. But an 11-2 run by the Comets early in the third put them ahead 29-22. A pair of Rosado buckets late in the third put the Rangers on a 9-0 run that spanned into the early fourth before the Comets answered with eight straight points gave them the lead back for good.

“Ultimately, we didn’t make the stops at the defensive end that we needed to close out a game,” Esser said.

Up next, the Rangers have home games against SWC foes Lakewood (Wednesday at 7 p.m.) and Midview (Saturday at 1:30 p.m.).

For questions about this story, call 440-871-5797.

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