MEDINA — Sarah Kinch has worked too hard and sacrificed too much to fail.
The 5-foot-11 senior stamped U.S. Mail on the back of her No. 24 jersey Saturday and delivered the Medina girls basketball team a thrilling 54-49 victory over Brecksville in the Valley Forge Division I Sectional finals.
Second-seeded Medina (16-6) advances to play No. 3 Midpark in Thursday’s district semifinals. The Meteors defeated Medina 74-56 for the championship last season.
“We’re not ready to stop playing yet,” Kinch said. “We had that fire.”
The Northern Kentucky recruit finished with a career-high 22 points despite a triangle-and-two defense that also honed in on Angela Tesny. Kinch hit 10-of-11 free throws and tallied three points, two blocks, a rebound and a steal in the final 1:48 as Medina held on after blowing a 12-point first-half lead.
Junior post Madi Tata was a beast off the bench with 11 points and seven rebounds. Tesny (6 points, 3 assists) gave Medina the lead for good on a driving layup and kept Brecksville leading scorer McKensey Ryan in check (9 points on 3-of-13 shooting), while fellow senior Faith Constance hit three 3-pointers, including one in the fourth quarter that kept sixth-seeded Brecksville (12-12) from grabbing momentum by the throat.
The bottom line was the three-time defending Northeast Ohio Conference River Division champions refused to lose despite shooting just 11-of-40 through three quarters.
Not committing a second-half turnover didn’t hurt, either.
“We’ve got senior leadership,” coach Chris Hassinger said. “And how about Madi Tata? She played outstanding.”
Kinch’s late-game flurry took center stage with Medina up 51-49. Pseudo Brecksville center Sarah Coronel (6 points on 3-of-13 shooting, 13 rebounds) was open on the block, but Kinch came out of nowhere and swatted her clean from behind.
Medina then went to its spread offense and burned 36 seconds before Kinch split two defenders and bullied her way for a layup that made it 53-49 with 1:12 left.
“First off, it was my fault that (Coronel) got there because I was guarding her,” Kinch said. “I was blessed I got my hand on the ball.”
Not to be outdone, Kinch denied an entry pass to Coronel and the ball went out of bounds off Brecksville. Following a missed Tesny free throw, Kinch poked the ball from behind Coronel right into the arms of Constance. Kinch then made one free throw at the other end.
Finally, Kinch blocked a desperation 3-point attempt by Brecksville point guard Mary Schentur (17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) in the closing moments to cap an unbelievable sequence.
“She’s unstoppable,” Hassinger said. “I don’t think very many people can guard her one-on-one right now. She’s now become that complete player.”
Brecksville missed 20 of its first 21 shots, yet, even more incredibly, hit six consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter — Schentur drilled three — to take its first lead since 2-0. Guard Jessica Lesesky (12 points) capped the 26-point quarter with a layup shortly before the buzzer.
Medina trailed 43-38 at that moment despite Tata’s seven third-quarter points. It was time to ball out or go home, and Medina’s seniors, who scored 15 of the team’s 16 fourth-quarter points, made sure they lived to play another day.
Kinch began the fourth with a block, rebound, layup sequence, which was followed by a Constance 3-pointer that tied the game. Tesny and Kinch traded points with Schentur and Emily Wickus until Tesny’s driving layup and a Constance free throw put Medina up 50-47.
Coronel responded with a bucket, and Tata countered with 1-of-2 free throws after snaring a key offensive rebound.
From that point forward, Kinch came through in a pinch.
“It was kind of sloppy, but we cleaned things up in the end and got our stuff together,” she said.
Kinch and Coronel played on the same AAU team as freshmen. The starting lineup also included Wadsworth’s Rachel Goddard and Haley Hassinger and Normandy’s Kaitlin Snyder.
Medina’s student section, which received all sorts of love after Friday’s boys game against Strongsville, was noticeably absent.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.