STRONGSVILLE — AnnMarie Kirchner and Haley Roddy had Friday circled on the calendar for months.
Even they couldn’t have predicted how memorable their Highland girls basketball team’s season opener under first-year coach Bernard Bolha would be.
The senior duo refused to quit despite what appeared to be a desperate situation, and led the Hornets to a stunning 39-36 non-league decision over Strongsville that was the definition of clenching victory from the steel jaws of defeat.
“We really wanted this game bad,” said Kirchner, who scored eight of her game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter. “We needed to start the season on a positive note, and we knew how bad Strongsville was going to be coming out to get us. This was really important for us.”
Highland, which ended the Mustangs’ 2011-12 season with a triple-overtime victory at the Medina Division I Sectional, scored 12 of the offensively challenged game’s 14 final points, including 10 in the final 57 seconds.
Kirchner and Roddy were at the forefront with 14 of Highland’s 17 fourth-quarter points, and, even more remarkable, caused three turnovers in a ridiculous 5.5-second span before Kirchner gave the Hornets the lead for good with 33 seconds remaining.
It was veteran leadership at its finest.
“We always want to play,” Kirchner said. “It’s the first game of our senior year, and we just really wanted to go out and have some fun. That’s what we did.”
Highland appeared dead in the water down 35-29 with just over a minute left. At the time, the Hornets were shooting a paltry 9-for-37 (.243) from the floor and had committed 29 turnovers, including 13 by its point guards alone.
But Kirchner and Roddy weren’t going back to Granger Township without a fight.
Kirchner made things interesting with a steal and layup to make it 35-31 with 57 seconds left. Roddy stole the inbounds pass and canned two free throws just 2.9 seconds later, then Kirchner tipped the next inbounds pass, got fouled on the ensuing scramble and hit a free throw to make it 35-34 with 51.5 seconds left.
Just when everyone thought Strongsville would finally end the madness — it got the ball across half court this time — guard Erin Sims dribbled into a double team and traveled. Kirchner quickly took advantage with a jumper to give Highland the lead.
The Hornets, who were also manhandled on the boards (43-22), then survived Strongsville missing 3-of-4 free throws in the final 25.9 seconds. Highland’s Anna Rose Wiencek and Jessica Peterlin countered by making 3-of-4, and Sims’ contested 25-foot heave failed to draw iron as time expired.
There was no time to blink.
“That was really huge,” Roddy said. “It was the fourth quarter and we were down and needed to catch up. I think everybody was pumped up. Once we got that first turnover, we just kept going. It was like a domino effect.”
For the first 31 minutes, neither team could take control thanks to plenty of opening-night jitters.
Strongsville opened with a 7:25 drought without a field goal until Keri Hill scored on a driving layup, yet the score was tied at 6 at the end of the first quarter. The theme continued in the second, when both teams combined to score 15 points on 6-of-22 shooting, before Strongsville took a 22-13 lead midway through the third quarter following an 8-0 run.
The turnovers (51 through 24 minutes) temporarily ceased early in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs went up 34-27 on a put-back by Camryn Hill, paving the way for Roddy to counter with a layup and initially begin a fantastic finish for the Hornets.
“It’s crazy,” Roddy said. “I’ve had (Friday) written down on the board — 23 days, 22 days until Strongsville on opening day. I know a girl on the other team, and they had it in their locker room because we ended their season last year.
“They’ve been pumped up for it. We’ve been pumped up for it. It was really good to get the win.”
|The teams combined to shoot 23-of-90 (.256) from the floor and committed 61 turnovers.
It was a Medina County bonanza in the stands, as Cloverleaf coach John Carmigiano, Buckeye coach Randy Haury and Medina JV coach Karen Kase were in the house. Former Copley coach Steve Coon reffed the JV game, while Highland principal Dana Addis, who led the Copley boys team to a 20-0 regular season in 2006-07, was also in attendance.
Strongsville won the junior varsity game 44-33 thanks to a 26-0 run in the middle quarters. Malorie Bush, Erica Peterlin and Hannah Earnest each had six points for the Hornets.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Highland 39, Strongsville 36
HIGHLAND 6 7 9 17 — 39
STRONGSVILLE 6 8 13 9 — 36
Highland — Haley Roddy 2-5-9, Anna Rose Wiencek 1-3-5, Mallory Adams 0-0-0, AnnMarie Kirchner 7-1-18, Jessica Peterlin 0-3-3, Marlee Profitt 0-2-2, Kathleen Kirchner 1-0-2, Sam Catron 0-0-0, Martha Szekely 0-0-0, Julia Choueirri 0-0-0. TOTALS: 11-14-39.
Strongsville — Keri Hill 3-3-9, Ally Branigan 2-0-4, Sara Leahy 2-3-7, Carli Stefanik 1-0-2, Kaitlyn Kotlarz 0-3-3, Jenna Jakubik 0-0-0, Erin Sims 1-3-5, Abby Novak 1-0-2, Camryn Hill 2-0-4, Sydney Salle 0-0-0. TOTALS: 12-12-36.
3-point goals — A. Kirchner 3. Rebounds — Highland 22 (Adams 8), Strongsville 43 (Branigan 12). Assists — Highland 5 (Catron 3), Strongsville 6 (Kotlarz 4). Records — Highland (1-0), Strongsville (0-1). Junior varsity — Strongsville 44, Highland 33.