BRUNSWICK — Thirty-two minutes separate the Brunswick girls basketball team from at least a share of the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division championship.
How the Blue Devils put themselves in this scenario was hair-raising, to say the least.
Despite struggling from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, Brunswick made up just enough of them to go with just enough blocked shots and just enough rebounds to hold off Mayfield 52-51 Wednesday.
The Blue Devils (16-5, 7-2) are tied with Medina (14-6, 7-2) in first place and a half-game up on the Wildcats (13-7, 6-2). Brunswick can clinch a piece of its first league title since 1998 with a win next week against North Royalton (12-7, 4-4).
“Things don’t always go your way, so it comes down to just staying confident and ready for battle,” Brunswick coach Halle Lengal said as the players were cheered coming out of the locker room. “We know every game is a tough one, and our kids have learned how to win. They’re confident in themselves and each other.
“I never thought we were going to lose that game. We just made it a lot more difficult than it needed to be.”
Senior center Gabrielle Bulic led the Blue Devils with 10 points, 19 rebounds and eight blocks. Senior shooting guard Courtney Laudato scored nine of her team-high 16 points in the third quarter, while freshman point guard Paige Salisbury (11 points) had two pivotal blocks in the final 1:30.
Brunswick was 8-of-18 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. It only survived after inbounder Brianna Moss successfully found Salisbury after Mayfield backup center Morgan Widina hit a wild 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left.
Salisbury was fouled and missed both free throws with 0.9 ticks on the clock, but Bulic grabbed the rebound — her second offensive board in the final 21 seconds — to secure victory.
“We just tried to stay as calm as we could even though our heads were spinning everywhere,” said Bulic, who had 13 rebounds and six swats in the second half. “Halle was really trying to calm us down. She was making plays that we knew were going to work.”
The Blue Devils led 42-32 after Laudato, who earlier hit an NBA-range 3-pointer, banked in a crowd-pleasing 25-footer at the third-quarter buzzer. Two free throws by Salisbury made it 47-36 early in the fourth.
Brunswick reached that point with extremely disciplined defense, which was 2-3 after it scored and man-to-man otherwise. The Blue Devils switched every time Mayfield attempted to pass out of its weave offense, and Laudato and Salisbury in particular forced volume scorer Shannon Zajec (21 points on 6-of-18 shooting) to take a ton of contested shots.
The Wildcats were an eye-popping 4-of-34 (.118) in the middle quarters, which Brunswick won 31-17.
“Once we settled in, they really didn’t have an open look the rest of the game,” Lengal said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on — our defense.”
Even though Brunswick’s defense was once again top notch, Mayfield clawed back despite shooting a not-that-much-better 6-of-21 in the fourth.
Zajec finally got hot and scored seven points during a 10-3 run that made the score 51-48 with 22.1 seconds left. Brunswick committed three turnovers and missed three free throws during the spurt.
On the ensuing inbounds, Bulic was dangerously close to the sideline but the defender was called for a foul. With the Blue Devils in the double-bonus, Bulic missed two free throws but used every bit of her 6-foot-4 frame to get a jump ball call. She then grabbed the inbounds pass and hit one free throw to make it 52-48.
At the other end, Zajec drove to the rack, only to be blocked by Salisbury. Zajec quickly grabbed the rebound and stepped on the baseline — “we kinda got lucky,” Salisbury said — but the Blue Devils coughed the ball up seconds later.
Zajec tried a variety of one-on-moves against Laudato to no avail, then passed to Widina, who tossed up a desperation 3-pointer in front of the Mayfield bench that grazed the top of the backboard and went through to make it 52-51.
The problem was there were just 1.6 seconds left, and Brunswick inbounded the ball successfully to seal the deal.
Last up: The Bears, who the Blue Devils defeated 42-38 on Jan. 5.
“We know we still have to work hard and beat North Royalton,” Salisbury said. “So, we still have to be focused.”
From the start of the second quarter until 4:43 left in the third, Mayfield was 1-of-21 from the floor.
Wildcats point guard Halle Rubino entered the night averaging 11.8 points but finished with just two on 1-of-14 shooting. She did, however, have six assists.
Farrah Benner’s 15 points weren’t enough as Brunswick’s junior varsity lost 53-50 in overtime.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.