High school girls basketball: Big second half leads CVCA back to district final

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
CVCA guard Nina Shaffer puts up a shot during the Royals' 59-47 home win over Hawken Wednesday in a Division II district semifinal game.
CVCA guard Gia Casalinova looks to cut to the basket during the Royals' 59-47 home win over Hawken Wednesday in a Division II district semifinal game.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — For one half, the Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy girls basketball team looked just a step off.

The Royals' shooting was off and their pressure defense seemed to be slow and exploitable by Gates Mills Hawken.

Behind by six points at halftime, the Royals' excellent season seemed to be in peril.

But in the third quarter, CVCA flicked the switch.

A 13-1 run to end the third turned the game around and the Royals ran away with a 59-47 win over the Hawks on Wednesday at Tim Beyerle Gymnasium.

The win gave the Royals (21-4) their second consecutive berth in a district final game, where they will host Northwest on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Royals coach Andy O'Keefe gave Hawken credit for pushing his team early.

"They're a good team. They only had two losses this season," O'Keefe said. "I think their guards did very well against our pressure.

"We're an aggressive team. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I think we were much more disciplined in our defense in the second half."

Hawken coach David Murray said the Hawks (14-3) were a bit fortunate in the first half.

"In the first half, we were lucky," Murray said. "They were able to get good shots off. They just didn't go in. A lot of those 3s went in the second half and in the fourth quarter, our legs kind of felt it."

Things started well for the Royals, Two 3-pointers from sophomore Kylie Bettinger gave CVCA a 6-0 lead.

Then the Royals went cold from the field. Anchored by forward Makayla White, Hawken was able to finish the first quarter on an 8-0 run.

White finished with a game-high high 18 points and seven rebounds.

"I don't know of another player, boy or girl, that I've coached who works harder than her," Murray said. "If there's any player I have to ride or die with, it's her."

Ahead 20-13 after one quarter, Hawken was able to maintain its lead, despite a glut of turnovers and CVCA still trailed 27-21 at the half.

It was clear Hawken focused on CVCA sophomore Gia Casalinova and they held the Royals' leading scorer to four points in the first half.

"Teams are going to key on her," O'Keefe said. "I thought we did a much better job in the second half setting screens and getting open shots."

Casalinova made two 3-pointers early in the third quarter, helping set off a barrage of 3-pointers by CVCA.

The Royals drilled five 3-pointers in the third quarter alone, along with an old-school three-point play by Bettinger.

Bettinger led the Royals with 15 points and Casalinova had 12.

Royals point guard Sydnie Pearce got in on the fun with two 3-pointers. She also ended the third quarter by making both ends of a one-on-one to push the Royals' lead to 43-35 after three quarters.

Pearce finished with 13 points.

CVCA took advantage of being in the bonus for the entire fourth quarter and the Royals went 16-of-21 from the free-throw line, compared to just 3-of-8 for the Hawks.

The Royals played intelligent ball down the stretch, forgoing quick baskets when they had the lead.

The daggers came from CVCA on two consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter. The Royals were running a four-corners drill until Bettinger was left wide open in the corners.

Bettinger nailed two 3-pointers, stretching the lead to 53-40 and forcing Murray to call a timeout with two minutes left.

"She earned the right to take those shots," O'Keefe said of Bettinger.

Hawken was in quick foul mode in the last two minutes, but the outcome was never in doubt. Point guard Julliana Pollard had 10 points for the Hawken.

The district final against Northwest also will be a rubber match between the Principals' Athletic Conference co-champions.

CVCA lost 56-54 in overtime Dec. 19 in Canal Fulton, but beat the Indians 40-39 at home Jan. 23.

"They're big. They've got solid guard play," O'Keefe said. "They've got a solid team all the way around."