In what felt like a matter of moments, the Westlake Demons turned a close 13-9 first-quarter lead into a blowout. Starting in the middle of the second quarter and running through the end of the third period, the Demons outscored host North Ridgeville 29-2 and took a commanding 48-14 lead into the fourth quarter.
With that insurmountable deficit, Westlake coach Karen Swanson Haan was able to let her bench put the finishing touches on the Demons’ 59-18 victory Saturday.
“I was really pleased with how things looked on both ends of the floor,” Swanson Haan said. “Offensively, I thought we did a really nice job of finding each other and finding the open looks. We were active, we were cutting, we were passing and shots were dropping. I can’t complain about things on the offensive end and I was really happy with our defense today, too.”
That Demon defense led to many of the points the team had during that lengthy run. In total, the Rangers turned over the ball 18 times, 14 coming on Westlake steals. The impetus defensively was starting guard Summer Salem, who forced four steals and scored five points.
“It feels so good because after we get the ball from defense, we just go and do our thing on offense,” Salem said. “With our team, it’s so easy on defense when everyone on the court does their role. We each make it easy for each other.”
Westlake (18-3, 16-1 Southwestern Conference) also held North Ridgeville (10-11, 6-11 SWC) to just three points in the second quarter, two points in the third quarter and four points in the final period. As a team, the Rangers shot just 18% (7-of-38). It wasn’t all from lack of high-percentage shot opportunities, though. There were many shots, both inside and outside of the arc, that simply didn’t fall.
And while a 41-point loss is tough, North Ridgeville coach Amy Esser said she saw the good her team did throughout the game.
“I’ve never seen Westlake shoot so well from behind the 3-point line,” Esser said. “Our gameplan going in was, of course, to shut down Gina (Adams) and I thought Ryan Elbert did a great job of that. Our shots didn’t fall, we struggled offensively again. We had some really good looks, they just weren’t falling.”
Elbert held Adams to just nine points on 4-of-9 shooting and scored a team-high five points of her own. She also had three blocks. Sophomore guard Daylan Baker had four points, six rebounds and two steals for the Rangers.
Leading Westlake were Christina Zkiab and Abby Carrington with 11 points. Emma Hall had nine to match Adams’ total and Abbie Gardner had eight points and 10 rebounds. Swanson Haan said she was “so happy and proud” of Zkiab coming off the bench and putting together a strong second half with three 3-pointers.
“I just felt like it was my time to shine,” Zkiab said. “I got in in the third quarter so I just wanted to take advantage of the time I got on the court.”
One element that has plagued the Rangers throughout the season showed again Saturday. At times during the game, the team was hesitant on open looks and when needing to make extra passes. Esser knows that issue will have to be remedied before the playoffs, but remains optimistic.
“The one thing we’ve really been focusing on is mental toughness. They’re not there yet,” Esser said. “You could tell that there’s just a mental toughness that they’re lacking and we just keep pushing positivity and it’ll come. We have to get to that point. We just have to keep pushing it. We can’t dwell on what just happened.”
Westlake, on the other hand, is riding high after it extended its winning streak to 11 games.
“It’s a lot of fun and it feels pretty awesome,” Swanson Haan said. “We’re trying to play the best basketball that we can as a team. I tell our girls all the time, if we play hard and we play our best basketball, it’s going to be really hard for anybody to beat us this year.”
Both teams wrap up their regular seasons tonight at home with North Ridgeville playing Avon and Westlake taking on Amherst.
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