High school girls basketball: Laurel ends CVCA's season in regional semifinal

Michael Leonard
Akron Beacon Journal
CVCA guard Gia Casalinova scored 24 points but it wasn't enough for the Royals, who lost 60-40 to to Laurel in a Division II regional semifinal at Barberton. [Photo courtesy of Timothy Howard]

BARBERTON — From the moment it stepped onto the court at Barberton High School, the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy girls basketball team was in uncharted territory.

As it prepared for the first regional game in school history, however, the Royals' opponent was familiar.

Laurel ended CVCA's 2019-20 season with a win in the Nordonia district final, so the Royals were looking for a bit of retribution.

As to Tuesday's game, CVCA coach Andy O'Keefe put it best.

"I said this last year and I don't want to give them the kiss of death, but I think we lost to the state champion tonight," O'Keefe said.

Laurel made its outside shots early, never let the Royals' offense get in gear and ran away with a 60-40 win in a Division II regional semifinal. Laurel will face Perry on Friday in the district final at Barberton.

O'Keefe admitted the Gators' defense — and the Thierry twins — pummeled his squad.

"Their pressure was tough," O'Keefe said. "Not only did they pressure our outside shooters, but also on our ball-handlers. It's a bit hard to get a clean catch and shoot when Haley Thierry is jumping out on you."

Haley Thierry was a menace on the ball on defense and finished with a team-high 14 points.

But Taylor Thierry might have been a bigger force. She had a couple of huge blocks in the first quarter which seemed to make the Royals reluctant to drive the rest of the night.

Taylor Thierry finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

"She's going to Ohio State for a reason," Laurel coach Kevin Braaten said of Taylor Thierry. "She's got a 27-inch vertical leap, which is more than I could do. The thing is, she's a great team player. She doesn't care about how many points she gets.

"We knew CVCA is a great team," he added. "Our regional experience last year taught us that we have to play every game like it could be our last."

CVCA had its own success on defense, as the Royals caused 17 turnovers, compared to Laurel's 15.

The problem for the Royals was the 3-pointers weren't falling, but Laurel's were. Three 3-pointers helped Laurel to rush out a 13-2 lead before O'Keefe called a timeout.

Over the course of the first three quarters, Laurel outshot CVCA 6-2 in 3-pointers. Gators guard Autumn Taylor finished with 10 points, including three 3-pointers in the first half.

With CVCA trailing 13-4 after one quarter, sophomore Gia Casalinova asserted herself.

The Royals' leading scorer started driving, popping 3-point shots and doing everything she could to keep the Royals in the game. Casalinova scored 10 of her game-high 24 points in the second quarter.

"They had a really good defense on us," Casalinova said. "We were flustered in the first quarter. They were doing a good job on our 3-point shooters with them being so long."

"She's a special player," O'Keefe said of Casalinova. "She's a great scorer and a great defender. We needed her to be a big scorer tonight. She gave us absolutely everything she had tonight. I couldn't ask for anything more."

The problem for the Royals was the rest of the team scored just 16 points.

Laurel's scoring was much more balanced and the Gators took a 29-15 lead at the half.

The Gators kept their foot on the gas in the second half, opening the third quarter on a 16-4 run and forcing O'Keefe to call a timeout.

Part of the reason for the Royals' lack of steady offense was Laurel's complete dominance on the boards. The Gators won the rebounding battle 37-15.

Behind 36-19, Casalinova kept firing, but the Royals still trailed 47-26 after three quarters.

By the time CVCA found its outside shot in the fourth quarter, it was too late.

Nina Shaffer made a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and finished with eight points.

CVCA's Sydnie Pearce tries to shoot over Laurel's Helen Holley during the Royals' 60-40 loss in a Division II regional semifinal at Barberton on Tuesday night. [Photo courtesy of Timothy Howard]

O'Keefe saw the most successful season in CVCA history end. He will say goodbye to three seniors in forward Sidney Marshall, point guard Sydnie Pearce and forward Jillian Ianetta.

As for Casalinova, she believes the Royals have every chance to return to the regional next season.

"That would be ideal to get another shot at Laurel," Casalinova said.