LAKEWOOD — Many times the true character of a team is more visible in defeat than in victory. If that holds true for Elyria Catholic, then coach Eric Rothgery had reason to smile Saturday after the Panthers’ 39-37 defeat to Lakewood in a West Shore Conference game.
What could have been a disaster for Elyria Catholic after the Rangers (14-3, 10-1) took a 16-4 first-quarter lead turned into an epic showdown, with the lead changing hands twice in the fourth quarter and the Panthers having two chances to tie or take the lead in the final 12 seconds.
“I think we grew up as a team today,” said Rothgery, who guided the Panthers to the state Final Four in 2010. “We did a good job making a run and coming back in the game. When you get down the way we did, some teams would fold. We started working even harder.
“We executed well today. Our goal was to keep the game in the 40s. We held them to
39 points. We just needed that one more basket.”
Elyria Catholic (14-3, 7-3) went on a 9-0 run beginning in the final two minutes of the third quarter and extending into the opening seconds of the final period when Riley Schill scored two of her team-high 11 points to pull the Panthers within 30-29.
With four minutes left, freshman Jessie Lee’s right-handed layup put Elyria Catholic in front 36-35. She missed a free throw that would have given the Panthers a two-point lead. Lee finished with eight points and 11 rebounds.
“We came in here and wanted to win because it would have gave us a chance to win the conference, but I am so proud of how our team came back and competed,” Schill said. “Today actually boosted our confidence, we proved to ourselves we can compete with a bigger Division I team.”
Senior Maggie Rowell led Lakewood with 15 points, including three 3-pointers. The Rangers increased their lead in the WSC to 2½ games over Avon and Elyria Catholic with three games to play, all but assuring Lakewood its second straight conference title.
“I thought we started off great, then we went into this slide and I’m not sure why. We did the same thing the other night against North Ridgeville,” Lakewood coach Mike Harper said. “But give credit where credit is due, Elyria Catholic never stopped fighting. Eric always has his team well-prepared and they always play hard.”
Sophomore Josie Carandang was also in double figures for the Panthers with 10 points.
Not only did the Division III Panthers lack depth against a bigger Lakewood team, Elyria Catholic — with just one senior on its roster — was also at a disadvantage in the experience department. The Rangers have six seniors and three returning starters from last year’s team that went 20-4.
“I’m really proud of these girls,” Harper said. “I have six seniors that this is their last hurrah, I want us to be in a position to make a tournament run. Winning the conference in nice, but we don’t want to exit the tournament in two games again this year.”
Both teams shot 46 percent from the free throw line. If the Rangers would have done a better job from the foul line in the first half, Elyria Catholic may not have been able to mount its comeback. Lakewood shot just 1-of-8 from the line in the second quarter and was 3-for-12 in the first half.
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lakewood 39, Elyria Catholic 37
ELYRIA CATHOLIC (37): Julie Scarpelli 2-0-4, Josie Carandang 4-0-10, Riley Schill 3-5-11, Nora Hopkins 1-0-3, Becky Horvath 0-1-1, Jessie Lee 4-0-8 . Totals 14-6-37.
LAKEWOOD (39): Maggie Rowell 5-2-15, Megan Barrett 2-1-5, Ryann Greenfield 2-4-9, Madison Clause 2-4-8, Erin Hoffert 1-0-2. Totals 12-11-39.
Elyria Catholic 4 11 12 10 — 37
Lakewood 16 6 8 9 — 39
Three-point goals: Elyria Catholic (Carandang 2, Hopkins), Lakewood (Rowell 3, Greenfield). Field goals: Elyria Catholic 14-39 (36 percent), Lakewood 12-42 (29 percent). Free throws: Elyria Catholic 6-13 (46 percent), Lakewood 11-24 (46 percent). Rebounds: Elyria Catholic 34, Lakewood 33. Turnovers: Elyria Catholic 17, Lakewood 10. Total fouls: Elyria Catholic 15, Lakewood 15.
Junior varsity: Lakewood, 35-21.