ROCKY RIVER — For the first eight minutes Wednesday night Firelands looked like they were ready to take on anybody this side of the WNBA.
Then they spent much of the next 24 minutes letting Lutheran West back into the game.
After almost squandering a 17-point lead, the Falcons got it together late to beat the Longhorns 57-44 in a Patriot Athletic Conference crossover game.
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Junior Casey Morrissette led Firelands (2-1, 1-0 PAC) with 18 points. She said after the Falcons took a big lead they made the mistake of taking their foot off the gas pedal and trying to coast to victory.
“We didn’t come out ready to play in the second half,” Morrissette said. “We didn’t come out on our feet, we didn’t box out on defense. Tonight taught us we can’t let down when we have the lead. We have to keep pushing, keep boxing out and doing the right things.”
The Falcons went on a 15-3 run to end the first quarter and left the court at halftime ahead 30-16.
Lutheran West (1-3, 0-1) cut its deficit to 41-39 after 5-foot senior guard Bre Coreno hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 25-second span early in the fourth quarter.
Firelands post Destiny Samples answered with two consecutive baskets to extend the lead to six and help her team regain the momentum. Samples finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“I really came out in the fourth quarter and played as hard as I could because I knew the team needed me and we needed to build our lead back up,” Samples said.
In a year where his team is the early favorite to break Keystone’s grip on the top of the Stars Division, Firelands coach Dave Kudela was happy with the Falcons’ effort Wednesday.
“When we ran through our offense they didn’t have an answer for us,” Kudela said. “We faltered a bit in the third quarter, but in the fourth we picked up our game and rebounded well and started to play perimeter defense and got back to taking our time and having good possessions on offense.
“Give Lutheran West credit, they are a good team and we knew they were going to keep pressuring us.”
Ari Tomosula led the Longhorns with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Lutheran West coach Josh Campbell watched his players commit 31 turnovers and said after the game his team had a tough time dealing with Firelands’ pressure defense.
“They came out and jumped us, we’re not used to dealing with that kind of pressure,” Campbell said. “They did such a great job of causing turnovers and stopping us from getting the penetration we needed, so we started running more motion and setting perimeter screens to get open for outside shots.”
Rachael Holowecky added 14 points and four steals for the Falcons, and made five of six free throws in the second half.
Morrissette said it was important to get the first conference win on the road.
“We really wanted this game,” she said. “Our goal is to win the PAC this year and our first goal was to win here tonight.”
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