Carly Santoro looked every bit as strong as she was last season and freshman Jenna Strayer proved all the hype surrounding her talent is real.
The combo combined for 48 points and Bellevue topped Port Clinton 76-62 Friday night in one of the most anticipated girls basketball season openers the area has seen.
Up by six points with under four minutes to play, Santoro and Strayer hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Bellevue and the Lady Red closed out the game with a 15-7 run to leave no doubt.
“This was a huge hurdle,” Bellevue coach Ryan Orshoski said. “Obviously it's one game and it's very early, but I am super proud of my girls for taking so many shots from Port Clinton. Every time we would get some breathing room, they would hit a big shot. Tip your hat to Hannah Weaver, Tiffany Colston and (Hope) Thorbahn for those girls hitting shots. It seemed like every time we turned it over, those girls capitalized. Port Clinton is a good team and they are going to win a ton of games this year.”
The Lady Red jumped out to a 19-7 lead after 10 points from Santoro. Strayer drained a 3-ball with a hand in her face and the Lady Red jumped out to a 22-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Port Clinton found its rhythm in the second quarter though, scoring 17 points while holding Bellevue to 8.
Weaver hit a jumper with 3:22 left in the second quarter and neither team scored for the next minute. Bellevue got in foul trouble putting Weaver on the line for the one-and-one. She made the first but missed the second with 2:12 left in the first half to cut the deficit to 30-28. Kennedy Gulas got to the line a few seconds later and also went 1-for-2 but Colston drained two free throws with 11 seconds left to cap of an 8-0 Port Clinton run that put the Redskins up 31-30 at the half.
“It wasn't like a quick burst in the second quarter but we just slowly gave the lead away and we're sitting here looking at the scoreboard and we are down at half,” Orshoski said. “I thought it was a couple missed layups and a couple turnovers and Port Clinton capitalizing on those three or four possessions down the stretch, the last 2-3 minutes, of the second quarter that put us behind.”
The lead changed hands four times in the third quarter and Port Clinton looked to be gaining momentum when they went up 41-37.
But Santoro put up a quick jumper to make it 41-39 and the Lady Red called a timeout. They came out of the break and went on a 6-2 run to close the quarter and take the lead. Port Clinton never led again.
The Lady Red opened with an 8-3 run to start the four quarter and with the help of their full-court press, were able to slow the Redskins.
“The pressure was hurting us a little bit early and then I felt like, going back to it in the third and fourth, allowed us to get some momentum, maybe make Port Clinton play a little faster than they wanted to,” Orshoski said. “We were able to get some layups off of our offense with Shelby Stamm. She came in and scored 10 points in the second half. That was big.”
Port Clinton didn't go down without a fight.
The Redskins went on a 5-3 run of their own, capped off by a big 3-pointer from Thorbahn that made it 59-53 with 4:23 left to play. Stamm hit a jumper from the corner that made it 61-53, but Emily Ashley made a breakaway steal and dished it to Colston down low to keep it within six.
But the back-to-back 3-pointers from Santoro and Strayer seem to drain the Redskins.
“I felt like other than that stretch in the second half where we got a little bit careless with the ball and gave up a few shots, it was pretty even game,” Port Clinton coach Toby Bickel said. “It was a pretty good game and we did some pretty good things all in all. We weren't real disciplined and a few times that really hurt us. Bellevue's got some players that will make you pay when you don't maintain that discipline.”
Santoro finished with 27 points and two steals, while Strayer had 21 points and three steals.
“You can't say enough about Jenna Strayer, she's played a lot of basketball, a lot of high level AAU,” Orshoski said. “This is something she has dreamed about for years. She is somebody that our fans have seen for years. I think it was a treat for them to see her go out there and play so well in her first varsity game.”
Makala Daniel added 14 points and six rebounds for the Lady Red.
“Makala has battled a lot of injuries throughout her career,” Orshoski said. “She had a great offseason and a great preseason and she really did a lot of positive things and has stepped up for us. Playing a whole summer without (Santoro) forced our kids to do some things that they would not normally do with her on the floor. Hopefully we can keep having some offensive balance that we lacked so much last year.”
Santoro tore her MCL and ACL last year on a driving layup that also earned her the 1,000th point of her career. It's been a long recovery but Santoro said she's back at full speed.
“It felt really good to start playing again after a long eight months” Santoro said. “It felt good to finally put that Bellevue jersey back on.”
Santoro was also pleased with the performance of Bellevue's newest scoring threat.
“Jenna Strayer coming in as a freshman and having an amazing game, she showed her true potential,” she said. “Makala Daniel came in and played big minutes too. We really came together as a team and played a really good first game. It (takes) a lot of pressure off me. I know they can take over some of the scoring load and that's pretty exciting.”
Weaver led the Redskins with 18 points while Colston had 15 and Thorbahn added 13.
“We've got 21 more games,” Bickel said. “Like I told the girls, we either play (Bellevue) now or the 10th game. You win or lose the first game or you win or lose the 10th game. I still thought we did some good things.”