In Janelle Watson's mind, the Northern Ohio League title was never on the line.
Not on Dec. 14 when the Lady Red fell to Norwalk 45-42. Not a month later when her team suffered an embarrassing 60-44 loss to non-conference rival Clyde. And certainly, not Saturday when Bellevue hosted Willard in a showdown of the league's top two teams.
The Lady Red (15-4, 11-1) jumped out to a fast start and cruised to a 64-43 win over the Crimson Flashes (15-3, 8-2), clinching their fourth straight NOL title.
“I know how my team works. We stick together through everything, and I knew we would push through it,” Watson said of this season's low points. “I think that loss to Norwalk just kind of helped us realize that we needed to turn a corner and we needed to work harder, and we did that.”
The senior scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the win, while Carly Santoro led all scorers with 25 points.
“It's a great accomplishment because it has never been done in Bellevue history and it just feels awesome,” Watson said. “It was all four years of my high school, and I just loved it. I love being a part of this program and I love my team.”
The Lady Red jumped out to a 23-5 lead after the first eight minutes of action, and their lead was never threatened.
“We knew we had to get it done and not wait until the fourth quarter,” Watson said. “We like to play like that. We like to play fast and we figured we could jump on them right away and that is what we did.”
Willard opened the second quarter with a 7-1 run, but Bellevue managed to control the rest of the quarter to take a 37-22 lead into halftime.
“I thought we hit some shots early and we really attacked the basket well, which got us that lead,” Bellevue coach Ryan Orshoski said. “When you make shots, it allows you to do more things offensively, be a little more deliberate and dictate tempo. It's amazing how it makes you get after it on defensive with more energy. You don't feel so tired.”
Bellevue's defense was just as problematic for Willard as the offense was.
The Crimson Flashes tallied 22 turnovers.
“We felt like that would be a strength, getting them to turn it over, play a little bit faster than they wanted to, hold them to one shot and get it into our transition, which was successful,” Orshoski said. “I thought our pressure was outstanding today for four quarters.”
Leading the defense was Bellevue freshman Jenna Strayer, who knocked down two huge 3-pointers in the first quarter, but more notably, tallied seven steals.
“Jenna Strayer got after it,” Orshoski said. “She's always shot it at a very high level for us, but today she put a complete game together. She was the most active player on defense for us.”
Back-to-back three's by Shelby Stamm gave Bellevue a 20-point cushion with just a minute off the clock in the second half.
The Flashes trailed by 20 for most of the second half.
“A couple of times, our defensive pressure was pretty good but they just hit shots,” Willard coach Jon Dawson said. “A couple of times we got lost in assignments and weren't where we needed to be and they just kept making shots. We started to fall behind. You just can't play catch up with a team like that.”
Hannah Schloemer scored a team-high 11 points for Willard and grabbed six rebounds, while freshman CeCe King scored nine points.
Stamm added 12 points for Bellevue, while Strayer finished with eight.
“This is a group of girls that have been working extremely hard for the six years since I have been here,” Orshoski said of his six seniors. “Coming in, they were in seventh grade and played in championship games in junior high. They set high goals. They are gym rats, you have to kick them out of the gym.
“They will wear out that gun and that was the fruits of their labor today,” he added. “To be able to win it out right on our home floor, in a tournament type atmosphere, there is nothing but good coming from today.”