Olmsted Falls girls basketball coach Jordan Eaton has never been one to mince words, and he didn’t hesitate when asked to assess his team’s heart-stopping victory over Avon Lake on Feb. 10.
“Avon Lake is one of the toughest defensive teams we’ve ever played against,” he said. “They’re one of the toughest I’ve seen. They just really don’t let you do anything at all. They’re physical and, overall, they just do a good job of ‘physicaling’ you out of what you want to run.”
In a matchup of teams that make a living on the defensive end of the floor, the host Bulldogs never trailed and led by as many as 11 points early in the third period. But Olmsted Falls scored only two points in the final 6 minutes of the game and had to hold on for dear life to take a 37-36 victory.
“I’m so glad this game was played on a Saturday night,” said Avon Lake coach Paul Appel. “It was a phenomenal game — two of the best teams on the West Side, the two best teams in the Southwestern Conference. It was just a fun game. It was a really fun, competitive environment. They came out one point ahead of us, but I thought it was a back-and-forth battle all night.”
The victory, their 19th in 22 games, gives the Bulldogs their sixth consecutive Southwestern Conference title. Had Avon Lake won, there would have been a three-way tie atop the standings with North Ridgeville. But instead, Olmsted Falls finished with a 13-1 conference mark, with Ridgeville at 12-2 and Avon Lake at 11-3 in league play and 18-4 overall.
“I heard a lot of people say that a lot of other schools were going to win this league this year,” Eaton said. “I don’t want to say we were the underdogs, but I think that a lot of people doubted our team and I think we used that as a little bit of motivation. To lose one game in this conference in this year is impressive. Everybody’s got a stud, or two. I was real happy with all of that. There’s just a culminating feeling that goes with all that that just feels great right now.”
But it was incredibly close to not happening for the Bulldogs. Behind by a point, 37-36, with a few seconds on the clock, Avon Lake was attempting to inbound the ball under its own basket. Struggling to find an open teammate, junior Olivia Tobin made what could have been a game-winning play, throwing the ball off of the back of Olmsted Falls senior Danielle Cameron and then stepping inbounds and grabbing the ball on the block.
But Tobin missed the ensuing shot and Jessica Simon grabbed the rebound for Olmsted Falls, allowing the Bulldogs to hold on.
“That’s her creativity,” Appel said of Tobin. “That’s what makes her so good as a player. It was a really creative play and she got herself a great shot. She’s bummed that she missed, but that’s the freedom and the belief that we have in her to make plays like that. She saw what she saw and made a good decision. She just didn’t finish the shot. We’re proud of her still, no matter what.”
Another huge play that could have gone either way happened about 45 seconds earlier. After Emily Scina and Simon hit 3-pointers early in the fourth period to give the Bulldogs a 35-26 lead, the hosts went into delay mode and didn’t really look to score. But the scoreless streak of more than 5 minutes allowed Avon Lake to fight back into the game, as Bre Jones made consecutive layups and Claire Springer added a layup, making it 35-34 with 1:31 to play.
With the Bulldogs running time off the clock, the Shoregals were forced to scramble in order to foul. Olmsted Falls freshman Emma Schaefer found herself alone on the right wing, and she launched and missed a 3-pointer with about 50 seconds to play.
“Emma was wide open,” Eaton said. “We don’t really stall that much, but I don’t really blame her for shooting that. Honestly, if it goes in, the game’s probably over and we could walk out of here. It was a good stroke and I’m glad that she shot it with confidence. I’m not sure I would tell her to shoot it again, but …”
It may not have been the shot Eaton was looking for, but Scina grabbed the offensive rebound and fed Maddie Cerovac for a layup to make it 37-34 with 48 seconds left.
“We always focus on rebounding in practice,” Scina said. “That’s a huge part of practice every single day. The ball came to me, and I was in good position. I was just blocking out and grabbed that last rebound.”
Appel said his team was out of rebounding position because of scrambling to commit fouls.
“Honestly, we were calling fire to foul at that point,” he said. “We were trying to foul and scrambling around. We ended up with maybe a guard down there with like four of their players to get the offensive rebound. We fought where we could, but she made a great play. They’re a great team. That’s why they make plays like that.”
The victory not only gave the Bulldogs the SWC crown, but it also completed the regular season for both teams. Olmsted Falls, which was led by Cerovac with 15 points and Cameron and Simon with seven each, will host a sectional final game Feb. 22 against the winner of a Shaker Heights-Kent Roosevelt matchup on Feb. 17.
Avon Lake, which was led by Marisa Sumerfield with nine points and Jones with seven, is also off until Feb. 22. The Shoregals will then host a sectional final game against the winner of Lorain and Cleveland Garrett Morgan.
Olmsted Falls 37, Avon Lake 36