MEDINA — When in doubt, ride the horses.
The seventh-seeded Cloverleaf girls basketball team bucked its season-long trend of a 10-player rotation Wednesday and used stifling defense to take down No. 6 Strongsville 52-45 in the Medina Division I Sectional semifinals.
The Colts (9-14), who avenged a 46-42 loss to the Mustangs (7-15) on Jan. 9, advance to play eighth-seeded Copley on Saturday.
“We’ve just been working really hard,” junior point guard Jessie Lindemeyer said. “It was really close the first time, so we were really excited. We had more drive to win this time.”
Starters Emily Civittolo, Briona Burgos, Kendall Yuhas, Lauren Gokey and Lindemeyer each played 24 or more minutes as Cloverleaf, which was without second-leading scorer Lexi Civittolo (concussion), essentially played a 6-man rotation — Brittany Piper played roughly half the game — for the first time all season.
Fueled by stout man-to-man defense that held the Mustangs (7-16) to a rim-rattling 13-of-64 (.203) from the floor, the Colts took a 10-point lead early in the third quarter and could have doubled it if not for 10-of-21 shooting from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy because it was so hotly contested the first time,” coach John Carmigiano said. “We talked about making sure we play the best defense we could play and limit them to as few as shots as possible, and I thought our bigs did a nice job of preventing them second chances.”
Civittolo scored 10 of her team-high 15 points in the second half, while Lindemeyer had a stat-stuffing 10 points, five rebounds, five steals, three assists and nine turnovers. Gokey scored just four points but had team highs in rebounds (11) and assists (4), and Burgos flirted with a double-double (12 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists).
Toss in two second-half blocks by Yuhas, four second-quarter points from Piper and a dagger sequence in which 5-foot-2 Camille Hughes split free throws but scored a putback with 1:32 left and Carmigiano’s strategy paid dividends.
“We definitely brought a little different lineup tonight, but I felt it was the best particular lineup for this matchup,” Carmigiano said. “Playing time went down differently than normal, but in the end it was a good strategy. Our girls played really tough.”
Strongsville was led by freshman Erin Sims, who scored 12 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter. Power forward Camryn Hill added 15 rebounds, but the offensively challenged Mustangs were marred by .175 shooting as Cloverleaf led 35-26 after three quarters.
Sims’ scoring barrage helped make things interesting in the fourth, as Strongsville trailed 47-41 with less than 2 minutes to go. The Colts weren’t helping matters by putting a serious dent in their season free throw average of 62 percent, though Hughes’ big play finally ended the nonsense.
It took awhile for both teams to get going after scoring zero points on seven shots and seven turnovers in the first 3:28 of the game, but once Strongsville began to wear down, Cloverleaf took control.
“Defense is all we’ve been working on the last couple weeks,” Lindemeyer said. “We’ve been working on closing out and helping out so we don’t leave people open all the time.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.