Riders Three-Peat In Sectional Tournament

Members of the St. Marys Roughriders girls basketball team pose with their pieces of netting after defeating Defiance 40-26 in Saturday's Division II sectional championship.
Sports Editor

There was no panic this time.

In a Dec. 5 matchup with Defiance, St. Marys let a 12-point lead with 5:46 remaining slip away and begin a skid of four losses in five games.

In Saturday's Division II sectional championship rematch, the Bulldogs pulled within, but the Roughriders pulled away.

Instead of panicking, the Riders responded.

When the Bulldogs opened the game with a 6-2 advantage, the Riders countered with a 9-2 run to conclude the first quarter. When Defiance pulled within one with 3:23 remaining in the first half, St. Marys responded by scoring eight of the quarter's last 10 points and last four overall to take a two-possession lead into the half.

And when Defiance pulled within one again with 4:18 remaining in the third quarter, the Roughriders pulled away for good by scoring the last five points and shut out the Bulldogs for 4:50 in the fourth quarter.

The result was a 40-26 victory and a third consecutive sectional title for St. Marys. It marks the first time the program has won three straight sectional tournaments since 2001-2004.

"It shows our growth from our third game of the year to where we are now," Roughriders coach Jon Burke said. "Early in the year, we had a couple of games where we just didn't close out when we had leads — you can say we panicked, the pressure got to us — we just weren't composed down the stretch like we needed to be and that's where the growth throughout the year has really shown."

The win sets up a much-anticipated rematch with Bath (20-2) at 8 p.m. Thursday at Paulding High School.

"We need to play our game," Burke added. "We know it is going to be a fight and both teams match up very evenly across the board. We have lost two games in overtime to them … we are looking forward to this game."

The Bulldogs (12-12) opened the first quarter with a 6-2 lead — with the last four points coming from Olivia Moats — but after Burke called timeout, the Roughriders ended the quarter scoring nine of the last 11 points.

Noelle Ruane connected on a deep jumper and Lauren Cisco's two free throws tied the game at 6-6 with 4:16 remaining. A drive to the basket by Kendall Dieringer and a trey from Noelle concluded the Roughriders' 9-0 run.

Defiance stuck around in the beginning of the second quarter with a bucket by Raelle Gonzales and another by the 5-foot-10 senior to stay within one with 3:23 left in the quarter, but the Roughriders (18-5) finished out the half by scoring seven of the game's next nine points on a 3-pointer by Dieringer, a Ruane backdoor feed to Kiley Tennant for a field goal and a bucket and foul from Dieringer to lead 20-14 at the half.

The Bulldogs pulled the game to within one, 22-21, for a final time with 4:18 left in the third quarter as part of a 7-0 run, but St. Marys limited the Bulldogs to 0-of-4 shooting from the floor after that.

Carly Caywood scored her first points of the game on a fadeaway jumper, followed by a 3-pointer from the senior two possessions later for a 27-21 lead. 

Trailing by that same score, Tammy Aguilera's trey pulled the Bulldogs within five in the fourth quarter, but this time, St. Marys closed the game out by scoring 13 of the game's final 15 points. 

No panic, just execution.

"I thought we closed out quarters really well and I think that is because of our bench's depth," Burke said. "When we put in Haley [Felver] and Kiley and Laney, we are putting in people we can start on our team on any given night. That helps a lot brining in fresh legs.

St. Marys' defense did not allow another Defiance point for the next 4:50 in the final quarter — forcing two turnovers and limiting the Bulldogs to 0-of-5 from the floor. In the meantime, Dieringer and Cisco each drained 3-pointers and Dieringer's single free throw capped off a 7-0 run by the Roughriders, extending the lead to 36-24 as Defiance finished the game 1-of-13 from the floor after pulling within five with 6:32 left.

"Kendall played her heart out today just like she does every game," Burke added about the sophomore who finished with a team-high 13 points. "She can light up a stat sheet but she is just another one of those kids that I feel like our team is made up of — just going out there and playing really hard. 

"Tammy Aguilera is a really good point guard that you are not going to turnover, but Kendall just kept fighting after her [Aguilera]. Kendall took some shots tonight, she was bleeding a couple of times in different places so I am proud of her."

The one key to St. Marys' defensive success was limiting Defiance senior Carlee Smiddy. 

The 5-foot-10 post racked up 25 points — 10 of them in the fourth quarter — in that December meeting, but was held to just one bucket on Saturday.

"She's a great player, she's a heck of a post player and she a great rebounder," Burke said. "But we put Lauren on her this time and we just let Lauren, honestly, shut her down and Lauren kept her off the glass and she did a really nice job.

"It was a team effort to take her away because she beat us the last time."

Speaking of Cisco, the senior was visibly frustrated after picking up her third foul in the third quarter, but instead of fuming about it, Cisco turned into a leader on the bench, cheering her teammates on. It was just another example of the leadership Burke has preached about his seniors.

"Lauren had kind of a frustrating game offensively, but she played great defensively," Burke said. "But Lauren is one of those vocal leaders for our team."