Third Time's The Charm: Riders Advance

St. Marys’ Noelle Ruane attempts 3-pointer during Thursday’s Division II girls basketball district semifinal against Bath.
Sports Editor

Third time's the charm.

After suffering heartbreaking loses in back-to-back district semifinals, St. Marys rushed through.

And the best part about it was the Roughriders beat their nemesis Bath to get there.

Pretty cool.

For the first time since the 2003-04 season, St. Marys advanced to a Division II district championship after knocking off the Wildcats 43-35 in Thursday's semifinal at Paulding High School.

"It's exciting for our kids," Roughriders coach Jon Burke said. "Our seniors were here as sophomores and that was the first time in nine years we had won a sectional title for our program and they were a part of that. Now they are a part of a district finals game — it has been close to 20 years — and that was kind of our thinking this season is we have been here, now let's do it."

And they did it. Finally. 

It began in the third quarter with Bath (20-3) leading 25-21 with 3:31 remaining after Esther Bolon's 3-pointer, two possessions later, Noelle Ruane drained a 3-pointer in front of the St. Marys' (19-5) bench to pull within one and an Elena Menker bank shot 30 seconds later gave the Roughriders a 26-25 lead — their first lead of the game since the opening seconds of the third quarter. 

Ally Will's free throw made it a two-point game before Ruby Bolon's drive to the basket with 4.3 seconds left tied the game at 27-27 heading into the fourth quarter. 

"We knew they were going to take a run at us, that's what they do," Burke said. "[Greg] Mauk is a great coach. They are going to run at you out of the half — and they did they got the lead — and then Noey gets a big shot, knocks it down and it really gave us the momentum for the rest of the game.

"And for her to have the courage to take that shot, that's big growth for her. She is a great player, it is when is she going to have the confidence to take her shot, to go and do what Noey does in practice, in the game and she is getting there. I don't think we have seen Noey's potential in a game yet, but we are seeing more of it as the season goes on."

Bolon's quick layup 10 seconds into the fourth quarter put Bath up, but it was the last time the Roughriders trailed.

A Ruane feed to Will for two, a Kendall Dieringer putback and a pair of free throws from Carly Caywood gave the Riders a 33-29 lead with 5:38 to play as part of a 6-0 run.

Each team went scoreless for nearly the next three minutes before Bolon's free throw made it a three-point game. An exchange of buckets kept the game separated by three points when Ruane's first free throw in a one-and-one situation extended St. Marys' lead to four but Ja'Dasia Hardison's trey from atop the arc pulled Bath to within one, 36-35, with 1:25 left in the game. 

But unlike the last time these two teams met in an overtime thriller that the Wildcats survived from, the Roughriders closed the game out on Thursday by knocking down 5-of-6 from the free-throw line contrast to Bath finishing 0-of-4 from the field in the final 1:24. St. Marys finished 16-of-20 at the foul line compared to just 3-of-6 for Bath.

"In the fourth quarter, we wanted to take care of the ball," Burke said. "We like to get Carly Caywood and Noey Ruane involved in the offense — they shoot really well, they play inside, outside, they are hard to guard and we like some of the matchups against them — we wanted to get them involved in the gameplan offensively and when we got down to four minutes with a three-point lead we just need to take care of the ball.

"This a Bath team that scores quickly — like Ja'Dasia's 3-point shot was reminiscent of last year's game at Bath — … but that's hard good they are. It was a great game and I am glad we won this one."

St. Marys held Bath to just 28.2% from the floor (13-of-46) on the night and allowed just four 3-pointers for a team who can score at will. In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were 3-of-10 from the floor as Caywood and Ruane limited Bath to four one-and-done possessions and five defensive rebounds.

"That was our gameplan, run them off the 3-point line," Burke added. "We know this a really good 3-point shooting team and we know this is a really good defensive rebounding team too and I am proud of Noey and Carly — especially in the fourth quarter and that probably won the game for us."

The Roughriders will now face undefeated No. 3 state-ranked Napoleon (23-0) — who crushed Wauseon in the early game 70-37 — on Saturday for the right to go to the regional tournament. 

"Shae Pedroza is probably going to be the best player we are going to face all year, she can do it all," Burke said. "They've got Taylor Stock to compliment her — she's a big, physical guard who can get it to the basket really well — and they can all hit 3s.

"They are a lot like Bath and they are a lot like us. They hard to guard, they are physical and I think it is going to be a great game."

Much like Thursday night was for the blue and gold.