BRUNSWICK — The magic finally ran out.
The Brunswick’s girls basketball team poured its heart and soul onto the court in an effort to get back into the Northeast Ohio Conference River Division race.
Its last obstacle came Wednesday against North Royalton, but Alison Smolinski had other plans and led the Bears to a 38-26 victory.
The Blue Devils (16-6, 7-3) saw their 12-game win streak and dreams of their first conference title since 1998 come to an end. They ultimately finished second in the division after Medina beat Mayfield to snare its third consecutive title.
“It’s just disappointing,” dejected Brunswick coach Halle Lengal said. “I know we can play better than that.”
The night began with no shortages of subplots, as North Royalton (13-9, 5-5) put Brunswick in position for a title shot after stunning the Bees on Jan. 26.
Adding to it, the Bears were without starting point guard MacKenzi Matthews and the Blue Devils were without second-leading scorer Brianna Moss. Both were suspended for violating school policy.
With neither team mustering much offense — North Royalton was 9-of-41 shooting through three quarters and the Blue Devils scored just 18 points over the final 29:43 — one short burst of brilliance was going to make the difference.
Smolinski (game-high 15 points) answered the call with six points, two steals and four pass deflections in the fourth quarter.
“Our coach (Steffani Jaworski) always says to play together and play for each other,” Smolinski said. “I think we did a good job with that tonight.”
In the first meeting between the schools Jan. 5 — a 42-38 Brunswick win — the versatile 5-foot-6 sophomore was limited to a season-low five points after missing the majority of the second half with a contact lens issue.
Her specs were just fine Wednesday, as she spearheaded a 16-4 North Royalton advantage in the fourth quarter. While operating at the top of the Bears’ run-and-jump press, both of Smolinski’s steals led to scores, and she also hit a big 3-pointer that made it 32-24 midway through the frame.
The Bears, who also received five fourth-quarter points from Abby Miduri and Nikki Newman, then ran a four-corners offense to kill the final 4 minutes and, once again, have a big, big say in who won the division race.
“I will say MacKenzi was a big part of our success,” Jaworski said. “She wrote a motivational speech before the game that we read. I didn’t even do my talking. I couldn’t follow it. I just left it at that and said, ‘Lets play.’
“It was awesome, and every once in awhile we’d giggle because we’d hear her mouth from the stands.”
Brunswick was led by eight points, 11 rebounds and six blocks from University of Michigan volleyball recruit Gabrielle Bulic and 10 points, two blocks and two assists from sophomore point guard Paige Salisbury.
The problem was the rest of the Blue Devils scored seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. Brunswick made its first four shots, including a pretty baseline jumper by Moss’ replacement, Olivia Gailey, to make it 8-0 just 2:17 into the game, but only connected on 8-of-31 field goals the rest of the way.
More critical to the Blue Devils’ downfall was four turnovers on their first six possessions of the fourth quarter that led to seven North Royalton points.
Considering how good Brunswick’s half-court defense was, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
Then again, it’s hard to win when points are hard to come by.
“There was just no spark tonight,” Lengal said. “I haven’t seen that from us in a long time — that no spark — and that’s disappointing, too.”
Sam Malleo had five points as the Blue Devils’ junior varsity lost 27-17.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.