CVCA girls win first district title in rubber match with Northwest

Steve Batko
Correspondent
CVCA freshman Haley Hajdu brings the ball ahead during the Royals' semifinal win over Hawken Feb. 24. CVCA claimed the first girls basketball district title in school history Saturday with a 42-34 win over Northwest.

CUYAHOGA FALLS —  A pair of league rivals knocked on the door to reach the Division II Sweet 16.

Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy got one foot through and didn’t look back.

The Royals claimed their first district basketball championship in girls basketball with a 42-34 victory over Northwest in the Division II Northeast 4 district championship Saturday at Tim Beyerle Memorial Gymnasium.

It was a matchup of two Principal’s Athletic Conference powers.

Both clubs split in league action this season and were district runners-up last year.

Using a huge first quarter to create some separation towards a lead that ballooned to 15 points in the second quarter, third-seeded CVCA spread the floor on the offensive end to avoid another furious fourth quarter rally like Northwest had in the team’s last meeting – a 40-39 CVCA win Jan. 23.

Northwest, the fifth seed, made a push, but then went cold from the field down the stretch.

Superb sophomore 6-foot-2 post Lily Bottomley scored for Northwest off a lob pass from Ashley Cudnik to cut the CVCA lead to 32-29 with 5:14 left.

That’s as close as the Indians would get.

“We had a big comeback in our last game, but it’s tough to fall behind early to CVCA and their quickness, and Lily kept us going, but we just could not capitalize on offense,” explained Northwest coach Kevin Lower.

Sophomore guard Kylie Bettinger (12 points) buried her fourth 3-point shot in the corner with 3:23 left off a gorgeous skip pass from senior point guard Sydnie Pearce. That pushed the score to 38-30.

Another Royals’ sophomore guard, Nina Shaffer, then calmly sank two straight 1-and-1 free throws for four points to extend the lead to 42-32 with 56.2 ticks left.

“The girls did a real nice job of looking for opportunities to score in transition with our penetration early on,” said CVCA head coach Andy O’Keefe, after cutting down the nets.

“In the second half, we had to be more disciplined and we spread the floor a lot, and we were able to do that because of some senior leadership by Sydnie Pearce,” stressed O’Keefe. “Sydnie is an incredible point guard for us.”

It was Shaffer and Pearce who penetrated early and often against the Indians’ strong half court zone defense.

Shaffer poured in a game high 21 points, but was instrumental early on with her penetration against the zone and driving to the rim with layups in traffic, avoiding Bottomley and 6-0 Carly Spradling.

In the 18-8 first stanza, Shaffer netted 11 points, including a bucket as the buzzer sounded off. That came off a feed by Pearce, who went coast-to-coast.

Pearce was the facilitator as she didn’t score, but dished out six assists and had two thefts.

“Nina Shaffer was the difference maker for CVCA,” offered Lower. “She got them going as we didn’t rotate very well in the half court early on. We held them in the third quarter with the strong defense that we have had all year.”

Sophomore point guard Gianna Kuhn penetrated and dished off to Bottomley for a hoop as the Indians had an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 29-25 with 2:31 left in the third quarter.

Northwest’s zone held CVCA to just one hoop in the third period – a 3-point bomb by Shaffer with 1:06 left.

“They (the Indians) are so long in that zone, plus they have a rim protector in Bottomley, and their guards are very athletic,” explained O’Keefe. “It was tough, but we were able to spread them out more. We had to pull them out a bit and fortunately, we had the lead to do that.”

CVCA also defended Northwest senior sharpshooter Jordan Marecek well with Bettinger, freshman Hadley Hajdu, and sophomore Gia Casalinova (seven points).

Marecek was limited to two baskets and five points, but didn’t force the issue and played in control.

Other Northwest seniors included Riley Cudnik, Emily Stokes and Caroline Kuhn.

“Our seniors will be missed,” Lower said. “Jordan had some open looks, but not many as they did a great job defending her.”

Bottomley was impressive with 19 points and grabbing 10 boards for Northwest (19-6), which will be strong next season.

For the Royals, seniors like Sidney Marshall, Jillian Iannetta (seven rebounds) and Pearce made history by reaching regionals and matching last year’s school record of 22 wins.

“We want to play together, represent our school well, and continue to be selfless,” said O’Keefe.

CVCA (22-4) plays in the Barberton division I regional semifinals March 2 at 5:30 p.m. against Laurel Academy (19-4).

Laurel defeated CVCA in last year's district final, which was the school's first district final appearance since 1987.