HENRIETTA TWP. — After winning the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championship last season, Firelands had high hopes of making this season a repeat performance.
After Monday night’s 48-28 win over Brookside, the Falcons realized those hopes.
Firelands has two more PAC games remaining — and four overall — but its 14-0 conference record is good enough to clinch that back-to-back championship.
“We feel good to repeat,” Firelands coach Dave Kudela said following a net-cutting ceremony. “Our goal coming into the year was that we not only wanted to repeat, but we also wanted to get through the conference unscathed. So far, we’re 14-0 and we have two more quality opponents left.
“But we’re going to go at them with everything we’ve got and try to finish off that unbeaten season. The bottom line is, we won the league, and that’s what our ultimate goal was. I’m really proud of the girls — they worked real hard. It’s been a tribute to a very good basketball team.”
Senior Casey Morrissette and junior Brandi Holowecky led the Falcons with 10 points apiece, while Keely Hall and reserves Heather Smith and Becky Myers each added six to pace the balanced effort.
“We preach ‘team’ all the time,” Kudela said. “We had pretty balanced scoring tonight, and that’s been our M.O. all season long. We don’t want to just have one girl who can score, we want three or four that can take turns leading us in scoring.
“It’s been really fun to watch. They play well together at times, and when they do play well, it’s fun to watch.”
It was Brookside that set the tempo at the beginning, jumping out to a 6-2 lead. But Firelands responded with nine unanswered points, which turned into a 14-6 run to end the first quarter and a 16-12 Falcons lead.
The Cardinals (12-9, 10-6) went into stall mode in the second quarter, melting minutes off the clock as Miranda Verlatto dribbled minutes off the clock while standing near center court. The tactic kept Firelands scoreless for almost six minutes.
However, two quick layups by Smith and Myers made it a 24-15 halftime advantage.
“We had our two best guards out in Erika Elias and Vanessa Vansant,” Brookside coach Tom Moyer said. “We were just trying to basically survive the half. When it started, we were down 20-12 and I was hoping we could go into the half down 20-15 while keeping Erika on the bench with two fouls.
“But a couple turnovers here and there helped them get it to 24-15. But still, with the leading scorer in the PAC on the bench for the majority of the second quarter and going in to the third down just single digits, I was happy with that.”
The Falcons came out aggressive both offensively and defensively in the second half. They forced 12 turnovers in the quarter — 41 for the game — which helped them open an 8-0 run, increasing the lead to 32-15.
All told, they held Brookside to just five points in the quarter while scoring for 16 to take a 40-20 lead into the final quarter.
“We play better when we put pressure on people,” Kudela said. “That’s just the way we like to play.”
Firelands, from the second quarter on, held Brookside to just 16 points.
“It means everything to us,” Morrissette said. “Coming off of last year being the PAC champions, we wanted to come back and do it again. We work hard every day in practice. Defense has been a major key for us. We look at each other as a family, us girls and the coaches, and it’s just an awesome feeling to win it again with them.”
Arianna Sanchez led the Cardinals with eight points and six rebounds, while Elias was held to six.
“I just tip my hat to Firelands,” Moyer said. “They’re a tough team. They play great. They’ll probably make a deep tournament run.”
Brookside is finished for the regular season, while the Falcons still have four games to play due to weather.
“I’m going to miss them,” Kudela said of his seniors. “This has been a really fun group. It’s not always that you have groups that click together. This group really enjoys playing and enjoys each other’s company, and it’s been a joy to coach them. It’s been a fun year for us, and hopefully we can do more great things.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Firelands 48, Brookside 28
BROOKSIDE (28): Arianna Sanchez 4-0-8, Erika Elias 3-0-6, Montana Banner 1-1-3, Miranda Verlatto 1-0-2, Vanessa Vanzant 0-0-0, Marissa Bias 2-1-7, Eryn Banfield 1-0-2, Jaylenne Minissale 0-0-0, Ally Behrendt 0-0-0, Haley Elias 0-0-0. Totals 12-2-28.
FIRELANDS (48): Casey Morrissette 2-6-10, Brandi Holowecky 3-4-10, Keely Hall 3-0-6, Heather Smith 3-0-6, Alyssa Melendez 1-0-2, Becky Myers 3-0-6, Tori Grasso 2-0-4, Taylor Young 1-0-2, Kaitlyn Michener 1-0-2, Haleigh Bari 0-0-0, Alex Willis 0-0-0. Totals 19-10-48.
Brookside 12 3 3 8 — 28
Firelands 16 8 16 8 — 48
Three-point goals: Brookside 2-5 (Bias 2), Firelands 0-5. Field goals: Brookside 12-31 (39 percent), Firelands 19-45 (42 percent). Free throws: Brookside 2-4 (50 percent), Firelands 10-13 (77 percent). Rebounds: Brookside 26 (Sanchez 6), Firelands 18 (Bari 4). Turnovers: Brookside 41, Firelands 21. Total fouls: Brookside 12, Firelands 11.