MAYFIELD — No matter how queasy they were, guts won out.
The Medina girls basketball team was facing the perfect recipe for a letdown Saturday. Fifty-four hours earlier, the Bees were basking in the Florida sun and had no less than four players who were feeling less than 100 percent.
They didn’t yield to the excuses, though, and pulled out a gritty and clutch 58-52 Northeast Ohio Conference River Division win over Mayfield.
“It was a really good game to say that we really worked better together — our team motto,” senior forward Sarah Kinch said. “It was a team effort.
While the Wildcats (7-5, 4-1) were without second-leading scorer Halle Rubino (left ankle), they fought admirably behind the chuck-and-duck abilities of guard Shannon Zajec (22 points on 6-of-21 shooting, 5 assists) and athletic power forward Madison Snyder (10 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists).
Luckily for the Bees (10-2, 5-0), who have won 23 of their last 25 division games, they had the toughest players on the floor.
Power forward Kinch (16 points, 4 assists) and senior point guard Angela Tesny (12, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) put Medina on their backs. The three-year letterwinners scored or assisted on 22 of the Bees’ first 24 second-half points and helped coordinate a defense that made Zajec, who was fresh off a 37-point outburst against Madison, work for every shot.
On top 40-35 after three quarters, Medina never let its lead fall below five points the rest of the way.
“Those two are just gritty and tough,” coach Chris Hassinger said of Kinch and Tesny. “I was into them hard, and they responded. That’s why we are having success this year. Those two are great leaders.”
Sensing they needed to play frantic, the Wildcats implemented a half-court trap the Bees methodically picked apart. All seven of their fourth-quarter field goals were layups — Kinch or Tesny had a hand in the first five — with T.B. Cullen (team-high 7 rebounds) finding Madi Tata for the biggest open look that put the Bees up 55-47.
Mayfield kept answering with buckets by Zajec (12 fourth-quarter points), then Medina kept the door open by inexplicably committing three shooting fouls, including two on 3-pointers, and committing four turnovers in the final 1:30.
“We’re a great defensive team, and for us to make those mental mistakes is just not like us,” Hassinger said. “Part of it because (Zajec) is a great player, but were also out of sorts right now. We don’t know which way is up.”
The Wildcats’ last hope came when freshman Alexa Pasquale was fouled on a 3-pointer down 55-50 with 20.4 seconds left. She missed all three free throws, allowing Tata and Faith Constance to go 3-of-4 at the free throw line before Mayfield’s Gina Novario hit a meaningless layup as time expired.
“We know we have to be sharp against a team with good pressure, so we made sure to hit the open player and be unselfish as a team,” Tesny said after posing for a photo with former teammate Erin Pacholski.
For much of the first half, the Bees were completely out of sync and traveling on seemingly every other possession. Medina committed 15 turnovers in the first 16 minutes and allowed Zajec to go bonkers with 10 points, three steals and two assists in the first quarter, but kept things close by nailing 11-of-19 field goals.
Eventually, the Bees’ man press won out. Mayfield shot a miniscule 6-of-36 (.167) in the middle quarters, with Zajec bricking 12 straight shots that were almost always heavily contested.
It was a valuable lesson Medina has hung its hat on under Hassinger. The offense may come and go, but defense never rests.
Now halfway through the division schedule, the Bees are in the driver’s seat for their third straight championship because of it.
“We really pride ourselves on our defense,” Kinch said. “We work a lot in practice at it, and it’s probably one of the highlights of Medina. We’re definitely good at our defense, so that was a huge factor in this game.”
Maddie Normen had 13 points as Medina’s junior varsity won 60-30.
Contact Albert Grindle at email@example.com.