When Avon Lake’s dynamic duo of guards, Arianna Negron and Emma Knick, combined for just two points and six total shot attempts in the first half of a 56-42 win last Saturday at North Ridgeville, nobody got nervous or started pressing. Instead, the Shoregals continued to hunker down on defense and feed their dynamic duo of post players.
Those two forwards, junior Emily Yarham and senior Grace Dean, combined for 17 first-half points as the Shoregals (6-2, 4-2 Southwestern Conference) turned a slim 11-10 deficit at the end of one quarter into a 38-30 lead at halftime. And when it was time to finish off an ever-important conference win against the Rangers (5-3, 3-3 SWC), Negron and Knick were the fourth-quarter closers.
“I knew I needed to help my team, because in the first half they did their job and everything they were supposed to do,” said Negron, who added three assists and three steals. “So in the second half, I just wanted to be along and help with that, so I looked more for my shot in the second half.”
Negron, a senior, scored 14 of her game-high 16 points in the fourth and assisted on a Knick basket. Knick, a junior, scored nine of her 11 points in the second half and assisted on a pair of Negron baskets, helping to push the lead to as many as 16 points before the final buzzer.
It took an ensemble effort to beat back the young, pressuring Rangers, but the Shoregals had the pieces to do it. Hailey Hodge and Keely McGinty each scored three off the bench, and Corey Kroneker and Kiley Boutin each had two.
“We have a nice inside-outside game this year,” Shoregals coach Dave Zvara said. “We have unselfish kids who look for the open person. There’s not a selfish person on this team.”
Yarham (13 points, eight rebounds, three steals and one block) and Dean (six points, two rebounds and one block) had a size advantage over the smaller, five-guard Ranger lineup and used it to score a variety of buckets inside during the first half. And despite a strong defensive effort by the Rangers that led to 12 turnovers, the Shoregals found open shots when needed.
An experienced group that made a deep Division I tournament run last season, familiarity and trust played a role as foul trouble — Negron had three in the first half — and a lack of scoring chances kept the two lead guards out of any offensive flow.
“We do a really good job of moving the ball around, which gives us open shots,” Yarham said. “We’re just a really close team. We’re all really connected and we just know where everyone’s going to be, which makes the game much easier.”
But then a switch flipped in the second half.
The Rangers stormed out of the gate with a 9-0 run in the third quarter to cut the Shoregal lead to 28-25 with 4:30 left. But five points from Knick and a pressuring defense pushed the Rangers out of their newfound rhythm. Avon Lake finished the third on an 8-0 run. Negron converted two layups and confidently knocked down a pair of threes early in the fourth to build the lead.
Defensively, the Shoregals nabbed 13 steals and forced 17 Ranger turnovers, while holding them to 36 percent shooting. Sophomore Ryan Elbert and freshman Laney Rumancik each scored 11 points.
One of the youngest teams in the SWC, the Rangers, who’d won four in a row before two consecutive losses last week, are still learning as they go on the court, with an eye toward developing continuity similar to Avon Lake’s.
“I think we got flustered by (Avon Lake’s) pressure and their scrappiness,” Rangers coach Amy Esser said. “We rushed a lot, and defensively we didn’t talk as much as we should’ve. They’re starting to figure that out and they’re young, so there’s kind of a learning curve. So it’s important to point out the things they’re doing good and the things that need to be fixed in a game situation.”
Avon Lake will play host to Amherst Saturday at 1:30 p.m., while North Ridgeville will play Berea-Midpark on the same day and time at home.
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