KIRTLAND—With a 37-34 win at Kirtland, Independence has taken over sole possession of first place in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division.
The Blue Devils improved to 8-2 overall and 4-0 in league play while Kirtland dropped to 6-4, 4-1.
“That’s a heck of a win,” Independence coach Mike Marcinko said. “We battled a really good basketball team.”
Independence built a 21-14 halftime lead then withstood a Kirtland surge in the second half to seal the win.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game but you’re on the road, you grind it out,” Marcinko said. “I thought there was a stretch of time where there was something they did that we hadn’t seen and it took us a while to sort it out. Even when we sorted it out, we had missed some shots but we defended and got back into it.”
The Blue Devils, who won at Kirtland for the first time in Marcinko’s five years at the school, have struggled in the past to break Kirtland’s defensive pressure.
Haylee Dmitruk, Riley Wilson and Riccela DiGeronimo worked together to execute the game plan to perfection.
“When the ball is in Haylee’s hands, good things happen,” Marcinko said. “Riccela did a good job and Riley did a good job, but we were trying to spread it out. We wanted a layup out of the press break and if we didn’t get that we were going to bounce it back out and set something up. If you can get past the initial defense the backside is there. You just have to get it to the backside. The whole idea of flipping the floor was something we were trying to work on and recreate in practice but to (Kirtland coach Bob Bell’s) credit, we can’t recreate that pace. That’s hard to do.”
Kirtland made its run in the third quarter and tied the game for the first time when Amber Yurick pulled down an offensive rebound and scored to even it up at 23-23 with 1:59 left in the third, but DiGeronimo finished the quarter with five straight points on a layup and a 3-pointer to leave the Blue Devils ahead, 28-23, with eight minutes remaining.
DiGeronimo, who finished with a game-high 13 points, added a 3-pointer and three free throws in the fourth.
“That’s the team to beat,” Marcinko said of the Hornets. “They’re the reigning conference champs and the team to beat but we came here and got that done. I told the girls, celebrate the heck out of it and enjoy it, but we’ll be back to work on Monday. That’s just the fourth step in the process. We’re now 4-0 in the conference.”
Anna Weber contributed to the win with seven points, all in the second quarter, and Wilson and Kaitlin Richards both finished with six. Madison Stepanik and Dmitruk added four points and Erica Esper pitched in with one.
Jenna Sayle led Kirtland with eight points and Lauren Lutz finished with seven. Yurick and Macy McIntosh both scored six and Lauren Snyder and Julia Camino finished with five and two, respectively.
The Hornets dropped their second straight home game after Thursday’s 39-38 loss to Chagrin Falls. Thursday’s loss was Kirtland’s first at home in over two years.
“We’re in a stretch right now playing three really good teams in Chagrin Falls, Independence and now NDCL on Monday,” Kirtland coach Bob Bell said. “In a way, it’s a simple game. If you don’t make shots you can’t win.”
Kirtland shot just 36-percent from the free throw line in the loss to Chagrin Falls and finished 3-for-10 from the line and under 30-percent from the floor against Independence.
“The ball has to go through the cylinder more times than your opponent,” Bell said. “I thought we shot (poorly) at the line against Chagrin at 36-percent and today we shot 30-percent and we were about 23-percent from the floor. You can’t win like that no matter how hard you play defense. Unless you’re going to shut a team out, and I don’t think there are many 2-0 games, but it’s just a matter of getting the confidence back offensively and getting our stroke because we had shots. It just isn’t going in. I think we’re pressing a little bit too much.”