Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
For the first four minutes of the game, Avon was right where it wanted to be against top-seeded Magnificat.
But from that point on, it must have seemed like a tidal wave of navy blue was washing away the Eagles’ district title hopes.
Down 8-6, Magnificat quickly showed why it was the favorite to repeat as district champions. The Blue Streaks, bolstered by the hot shooting hand of Sarah Scelza, went on a dominating 30-5 run to close out the first half and buried Avon, 58-29, in a Division I semifinal game Wednesday night at Elyria Catholic’s Coliseum.
Magnificat will now face Elyria, which defeated Amherst 45-32 in Wednesday night’s first semifinal contest. Tipoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Coliseum.
Avon, which closed out its season at 14-9, saw things go south in a hurry as the combination of turnovers and Scelza’s shooting proved to be too much to overcome.
“We knew they were going to make runs and that we would have to counter,” said Avon head coach Meghan Banks, whose team turned over the ball 22 times in the first half and made two of just 14 shots after hitting their first three of the game.
“Tonight, we weren’t abe to counter,” Banks said. “We did start the game off strong. We were executing our game plan. We were working the ball around, getting it inside and finishing. We had that momentum.
“But Magnificat just kept building on their momentum and building on their lead. All props to them. They’re a fantastic basketball team,” she added.
It was Avon that looked fantastic early on as the Eagles jumped out to a 6-2 lead on a Payton Mitchell jumper and a pair of scores inside from post player Sierra Davidson. But the Blue Streaks, who had large run in the second half of their North Olmsted game, didn’t wait that long to start another.
A drive for two by Phoebe Sterba and a bucket inside by Elise Keshock quickly tied the score at 6-6. Scelza, who led all scorers with 22 points, scored a layup that put the Streaks ahead for the first time...and for good.
Avon missed a pair of free throws, and Magnificat countered with a score inside from Bridget Pryatel. Scelza drained her first of four 3-pointers on the night to make it 13-6, then added a pair of free throws to up the lead to 15-6 as Banks called a timeout.
With 3:50 left in the first quarter, it was still anybody;s game. But after Alexandra Bjorn scored on an offensive rebound for two, the Eagles wouldn’t score again until Meaghan Rooney hit a jumper with 1:42 left in the half.
Meanwhile, Magnificat kept the pressure coming. Turnover after turnover served as gas on the fire, allowing the Blue Streaks to seemingly score at will. Scelza’s second 3-pointer started a run of 21-straight points that extended deep into the second quarter.
When the half mercifully ended, the Eagles found themselves looking at a 38-11 deficit.
“I think our press came up big for us,” said Magnificat head coach Meghann Hubach, whose team shot 52 percent from the floor during its first-half onslaught.
“It was 6-6, then we kind of blew it open from there,” Hubach said. “Whether we got steals off our press or they just threw the ball away, the press worked for us tonight. I thought we did a nice job of executing our half-court offense as well.
“On Saturday, we were a little over anxious. We either took some bad shots, or we rushed things and didn’t run our offense through. In the first half tonight we were patient. We moved the ball to the spots where we needed it to go, so we got easier looks than we did Saturday,” she added.
Those easy looks continued to appear in the third quarter as the Blue Streaks continued to build on their 38-11 halftime advantage. Scelza, who had 15 points in the first half, opened up the second 16 minutes with her fourth trey of the game.
Bjorn and Davidson answered with the next two baskets for Avon, but Magnificat manufactured a smaller, but efective 11-2 run to push the lead to 35 points, 52-17, with two minutes left in the quarter.
Scelza finished her night with two more buckets during that run. Avon continued to play hard and went on a 9-0 run of its own, but it was too little, too late as Hubach’s bench played big minutes in the fourth quarter.
“I thought Sarah did a great job tonight,” Hubach said of her junior guard. “From the locker room and pregame, I knew she was ready to play. She’s practiced well and she’s shooting the ball really well for us right now.
“Sarah brings a lot of energy and intensity to the team. You always get 100 percent from her, and I thought she did a great job getting things started for us tonight,” she added.
Pryatel was next scoring-wise for Magnificat with nine points, while Sterba and Keshock added seven and six points, respectively. Claire Martin scored five points, Lily Schwind had five points and six rebounds, and Pryatel pulled down five boards for the Streaks.
For Avon, Davidson led the way with eight points, whil Bjorn added five points and six rebounds. Mitchell and Regan Betts each chipped in with four points.
“Hopefull in the years to come, we’ll work in the off season and continue to build their confidence,” said Banks of her young squad that graduates just two seniors in Rooney and Brianna Smith.
“There are many more years to come with this group, and we’re excited about that. This is just another stepping stone to the success that is to come,” she added.