Applying vice-like defensive pressure without getting into foul trouble is a difficult tightrope to walk. But the Rocky River girls basketball team has done well to keep its balance during a hot start to the season.
On Wednesday, in a Great Lakes Conference contest at Valley Forge, the Pirates continued to make their opponents uncomfortable. They swiped 19 steals, forced 23 turnovers and held the Patriots to a frigid 28% shooting in a 53-37 win.
The Pirates improved to 5-0 (3-0 GLC), and are one of two unbeaten teams left in the league along with 5-0 Elyria Catholic.
“One thing we’ve really prided ourselves on all year is the defensive side of the game,” Pirates coach Elaine Robinson said. “We’re constantly mixing up defenses and making sure we’re throwing different things at the other teams.”
Despite some choppy offensive stretches that resulted in the Pirates shooting 30% from the floor, four players scored in double figures. Junior Maria Potts had a team-high 14 points to go with 10 rebounds and four steals, sophomore post Kelsey Murphy scored 13 with 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks, and sophomores Sophia Murray and Taylor Spies each scored 10.
Murray, who missed last season with an injury, has settled in as Robinson’s starting point guard so far this year, and finished Wednesday’s game with team-highs in assists (5) and steals (6). Along with Maria and Julia Potts (three steals), she helped anchor a defense that switched from man coverage to zone, and half-court to full-court pressure at times to throw off the Patriots (2-2, 1-2 GLC).
“I think we’re all just really aggressive but we also know how to get our hands in and play clean defense,” Maria Potts said.
Valley Forge briefly took a 19-18 lead midway through the second quarter via a 10-0 run but went into halftime down 33-26 and was held to 11 total points in the second half.
As a team, the Pirates won the rebounding battle, 37-34, holding the Patriots to mostly one-shot possessions despite being at a size disadvantage. Junior post Emily Beckner led her team with 15 points — all in the first half — and four rebounds. Junior guard Jada Benjamin scored eight, along with five boards and four assists.
Rocky River’s ability to hold its own on the glass, along with its constant defensive effort, made all the difference in both weathering that second-quarter run and pulling away in the second half.
“After halftime we did really well as a team,” Murphy said. “We were boxing out, not giving them second-chance opportunities … I think we were really good at getting into passing lanes and pressuring the ball, making sure they can’t get open passes and open shots.”
Defense will form the identity of this year’s Pirates team, with transition scoring as its offshoot.
“Going down the line, I think our culture and where we’re going with this program is just playing team basketball,” Robinson said. “We spent the past two days in practice trying to get the best shot. They’ve been doing a great job of playing team basketball, offense and defense, making sure they’re in the right position, talking on defense and things of that nature.”
The Pirates will play host to archrival Bay Saturday at 2 p.m.
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