There was a sense of urgency among the Bellevue girls basketball team Tuesday night.
Carly Santoro scored 33 points and grabbed five steals as the Lady Red cruised to a 70-45 win over Sandusky (10-8, 4-5) at the Big House.
The win sets up a showdown against Willard Saturday in what could be a winner-takes-all battle for the Northern Ohio League title. Willard (15-2, 8-1) beat Norwalk 42-36 Tuesday, and will host Sandusky (10-8, 4-5) on Monday in a rescheduled game.
“We still control our own destiny, but for Saturday to happen, an NOL championship to happen, you have to win out and Sandusky is in our league,” Bellevue coach Ryan Orshoski said. “It's an away game on a Tuesday night, so there was a big emphasis on tonight.”
The Lady Red (14-4, 10-1) jumped out to a 5-0 lead. After Sandusky tied things up at 7-all, Bellevue closed out the first quarter on a 13-6 run to take a 20-13 lead into the second quarter.
They opened the second quarter with another run, 7-0, and broke open the margin to 12 points at the half.
“Our executing has been very good the last three games and our girls have been very locked in and playing unselfishly,” Orshoski said.
They kept things rolling in the third quarter.
Back-to-back jump shots by Janelle Watson gave the Lady Red a 20-point lead with 3:18 to play in the third quarter, and their lead was never challenged.
The defensive pressure, as it has against so many other teams, flustered Sandusky's guards.
“I think mainly what gave us problems is we just couldn't break the press,” Sandusky coach Richard Koonce said. “We were able to break it at times, but we threw the ball away when their press wasn't that tenacious. There were times we just didn't have our rotations right. I'll take part of the blame for that because we were trying some different combinations on the floor, so I may have caused them some confusion.”
Koonce knew that Tuesday's matchup would be a physical one. The Blue Streaks took full advantage, driving to the lane and getting numerous opportunities at the line.
But the Streaks went just 16-of-31 from the charity stripe.
“I think our strategy to take it to them, and take it to the paint was actually working,” Koonce said. “We just turned the ball over and missed some key baskets. Missing free throws hurt us. We went to the line quite a bit. We shot two and a half more times free throws than Bellevue. Imagine we get 10 more of those, and we break their pressure, it's a different game.”
Ta'Sharra Jeffries led the Blue Streaks with 15 points while Aschelle Smith-Crager added 12 points. Kelsey Peters grabbed nine rebounds and five points.
“This was a good game before we start tournament play,” Koonce said. “I am looking forward to using each game to help prepare us for the tournament. I think my girls are doing a good job.”
Bellevue, meanwhile, has had its fair share of low points this season.
It dropped an NOL game against Norwalk on Dec. 14, and two days later fell to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit. A month later they faced Clyde and, a year after taking the same team to double-overtime, fell 60-44. That same weekend at the annual Classic in the Country, they lost to Newark Catholic, 54-44.
Yet, the Lady Red are still in contention for an NOL four-peat.
“We knew we put ourselves in a hole when we lost Norwalk,” Orshoski said. “We didn't want to be beat down by the strength of our schedule. We were close to having that happen. We weren’t putting our best foot forward after, if there is a good loss, a good loss to a good team. Down the stretch, we need our schedule to pay off and I think we are seeing that happen.”
Jenna Strayer added 10 points for the Lady Red, while Shelby Stamm added eight.
“Both teams got after each other,” Orshoski said. “Again we missed some layups, missed some free throws, and left some points on the floor, but we are walking out of here with a win from girls who played four hard quarters. I thought our kids persevered and were relentless in their attack. I was very proud of their effort and happy with the win.”