July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Girls basketball: The Blue Devils eye a storybook finish

A year ago, Brunswick’s girls basketball team was the Cinderella of the tournament.

The 2011-12 Blue Devils are looking to add another chapter to that fairy tale tonight when they play in the Medina Division I District semifinals.

Brunswick guard Cassi Bowen will be key tonight if the Blue Devils want to beat Firestone. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY RON SCHWANE)

Standing in the way of coach Halle Lengal’s squad is second-ranked Firestone.

“They’re very similar to Kenmore,” Lengal said. “They will press you, they go diamond and they will pick up man-to-man sometimes. We just have to be ready to be successful.”

Brunswick (14-7) was ready last weekend when it stormed out of the gate to a double-digit lead vs. Kenmore only to watch it dwindle to one entering the final minute. The Blue Devils needed a Cassi Bowen layup to hold on.

That experience of handling late-game pressure is something Lengal hopes will help Brunswick against Firestone with a berth in the district title game on the line.

“Each game for us is always a learning experience because we have a combo of veterans and young kids,” she said. “We’re constantly learning and putting the pieces where they need to go.”

While preparing for the type of pressure they will see from the guard-oriented Falcons is hard to simulate in practice, Bowen noted it comes down to execution.

“We just need to make sure that we know what we’re doing and where we’re suppose to be,” she said. “If we keep our composure, like we’ve always have, we should be fine.”

The other semifinal will be a battle of Medina County rivals, as Wadsworth and Highland will meet for the third time this season.

While the top-seeded Grizzlies (19-3) won the previous matchups, this game is far from a sure thing. Wadsworth found out how tough it is to beat a team three times when it struggled with Copley in the sectional semifinals.

“Hopefully we learned some things from that,” Grizzlies coach Andrew Booth said. “I’d like to think with the experience and leadership we have on this team that those kids will not look at it like that and will look at it as a district semifinal with a shot to get to our goal. Our kids will be ready to play.”

They will need to be ready for one of the hottest teams in the brackets after the Hornets won a thrilling triple-overtime sectional semifinal over Strongsville and followed with a convincing triumph over rival Cloverleaf.

Highland hasn’t played for a district championship since 1993, but the program has come a long way from a two-win season last winter to a 15-7 record this season.

“It’s definitely something that hasn’t happened before (for us),” junior guard AnnMarie Kirchner said. “To have two tournament victories, we’re really happy about it.”

The Hornets kept it close in the first half against the Grizzlies in their matchup earlier this month before losing 60-38, and first-year coach Michael Murphy feels that his team’s happy-to-be-there thoughts will vanish at tipoff.

“On the other side of the equation, it’s (Wadsworth’s) third time after beating us two times in a row,” he said. “We all know they’re a great program, a good team and on a great run, but I think our kids want to play them.

“Our kids truly want to play Wadsworth and it could be a 50-point game, but I think we’ll be ready.”

Parma Division I

Speaking of history, Medina can advance to its first district title game in 18 years with a semifinal victory over Brecksville.

The matchup is a surprise. Medina expected to have a rematch with North Royalton at this stage of the tournament, but those plans changed when Brecksville upset the Bears 48-42.

No matter who the Bees play, coach Chris Hassinger knows his team will have to display the same balance and unselfish play it used to win a second straight Northeast Ohio Conference River Division title.

“Brecksville game should be a great one,” he said. “Both teams have great shooters and play extremely smart. We know we have to play smart and under control to win. We also have to have balanced scoring.”

To make a little history and earn a chance to play state-ranked and top-seeded Midpark for a regional berth would make it even sweeter.

“A victory would help this program take the next step,” Hassinger said. “We have not been to a district final game since 1993-94 when (current Medina assistant coach) Karen Kase played here. Most of our kids were born that year.”

Contact Dan Brown at sports@medina-gazette.com.