Friday, September 22, 2023

Independence ties school record with 22nd win

INDEPENDENCE—Riley Wilson scored a game-high 21 points and Madison Stepanik celebrated her birthday with a 16-point performance to lead Independence to a 68-32 win over visiting Black River in a Division III sectional championship game on Saturday.

With the win, the Blue Devils tied a school record with 22 wins but won their first postseason game since 2015.

“Part of it is we’re a smaller school and we’ve got a lot of kids that are multi-sport athletes who are doing multiple things at one time,” Independence coach Mike Marcinko said of the postseason drought. “Sometimes you don’t get focused enough but I thought they did a good job at practice this week because we had a week off from competition. I thought they did a really good job of staying focused.”

The Blue Devils wasted no time in setting the tone as they outscored the Pirates in the first quarter, 23-7.

Wilson and Anna Weber, who finished with 13, both scored seven points and Riccela DiGeronimo added five of her eight in the first eight minutes of play.

Black River responded with three 3-pointers in the second quarter to pull to within 36-22 at halftime.

“We weren’t really happy with our demeanor in the first half,” Marcinko said. “I thought we coasted a little bit. There was a lot of assuming; assuming we were going to rebound and defend and score. We got into them a little bit at half time and challenged them a little bit on shooting percentage and defense.”

Black River’s Sarah Kozik drained a pair of 3s in the first half and Lydia Wacker had five points at the break.

Marcinko focused his defense on stopping that duo in the second half. Neither scored in the final 16 minutes and Independence held the Pirates to just 10 second-half points.

“The girls rose to the challenge and took care of business,” Marcinko said.

Independence, who improved to 22-0, advanced to the North Ridgeville District semifinals, earned a rematch with Lutheran East, who bounced the Blue Devils from the postseason last year.

The winner will play either defending district champion Elyria Catholic or Warrensville Heights in the championship game on Saturday.

“Once you get to the district phase, there aren’t a lot of weak links, especially in our district,” Marcinko said. “Elyria Catholic, us and Lutheran East could have been No. 1 seeds and spread out throughout the area. I know they don’t do that, but we pretty much have three No. 1 seeds in our district.”

Last season, Independence was the No. 2 seed while Lutheran East came in at No. 7. This year, the Blue Devils once again earned the second seed and the Falcons are No. 3.

Marcinko hopes challenging games against some of the area’s most athletic teams have prepared the Blue Devils for the challenge that awaits them.

“Hopefully those games against Brush and Orange and Trinity and Lutheran West, I hope those games help us at this stage of the season,” he said. “We’ll prep and get after it; it’s just a matter of whether we execute and not turn the ball over and take care of business.”

Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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