The district monkey is gone.
The Bellevue girls basketball team played in its third district championship game in four years Saturday night, and had come up empty in the previous two tries.
Against Mansfield Madison, the Lady Red removed all doubt early and often, as they posted an 84-43 win over the Rams to advance to the Sweet 16 for the third time in program history.
Bellevue (21-4) will play Tallmadge (17-8) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ontario High School, while Toledo Rogers (21-4) and Lima Bath (21-2) are on the other side of the bracket.
“We've been to three of these in four years, and this has been a major focus this year, to break through and get to the regionals,” Bellevue coach Ryan Orshoski said. “It's very rewarding for the girls. They really played well tonight, and shot the ball well in making eleven threes.
“They were really taking away Carly early, and the other kids were able to step up and hit shots for us,” he added.
The first quarter was a feeling out process for the Lady Red, as they led just 12-7 after the opening eight minutes. However, the flood gates opened in the second quarter, with Bellevue blitzing the Rams by a 22-5 margin to take a 34-12 halftime lead.
“We had a lot of empty possessions in the first quarter, but we still felt good about how the game was going,” Orshoski said. “Our defense was very active and stayed on their big three players. But in the second quarter, Shelby (Stamm) got going from the three-point line, and it became contagious.”
After playing sloppy and edging past Clear Fork on Thursday (45-39), Orshoski admitted he was a bit nervous coming into Saturday, given the strength of schedule the Rams had been through.
“With Clear Fork and Madison in our district, they are coming out of the OCC (Ohio Cardinal Conference), arguably the best conference in the state in girls basketball,” he said. “Clear Fork lost five games last year, to Orville and West Holmes twice and Clyde once, all teams that reached state.
“And tonight, Madison had Mekaila Grose, Molea Thompson and Fantasia Hood, who were all three named all-district players. They put a scare into you when you look at them.”
Santoro led Bellevue with a game-high 27 points, while Janelle Watson had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Stamm finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists. Jenna Strayer also had 10 points, and Makala Daniel had eight points and nine rebounds, while Whitney Schalk added four assists.
Bellevue's other two regional appearances came in the 1983-84 and 2002-03 seasons.
“It's on to the next one, but it's a quick turnaround playing against a Tallmadge team that has strung together some wins here on Tuesday in Ontario,” Orshoski said.