WADSWORTH — There was a message received Wednesday in Wadsworth, and the team delivering it was a huge surprise.
The Cloverleaf girls basketball team is done being afraid of the big, bad Grizzlies and gave the No. 2 team in The Associated Press Division I state poll a run for its money.
Wadsworth eventually broke down the Colts’ 2-3 zone and received key buckets from sixth man Taylor Wyatt and Medina County leading scorer Jodi Johnson to pull off its 55th consecutive Suburban League victory, but the 49-37 final score was telling.
The Grizzlies (14-0, 8-0) had their faults, but they gushed about the Colts (5-8, 2-6) afterward, too.
“They weren’t intimidated at all by us on our home court,” Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said. “Given the fact the way the last game went at their place (a 73-34 Grizzlies victory), they certainly did not show any fear.”
“They would try to slow us down,” added Wyatt, who scored a career-high 17 points. “After foul shots and stuff, they subbed and we couldn’t get going on our fastbreak. They did a good job of slowing that down.”
The only thing Cloverleaf coach John Carmigiano wanted from his team was to be in the hunt after the first quarter. If a blowout happened, the Colts could hang their hats on a respectable start.
Such are the expectations against one of the most respected programs in Ohio, but the mood changed once the Colts took a 20-19 lead with 1:10 left in the first half.
Led by shooting guard Lexi Civittolo and versatile power forward Lauren Gokey (11 points, 10 rebounds), Cloverleaf broke Wadsworth’s press, slowed tempo and attacked the rim in an effort to get to the free throw line.
It worked, as the county’s top team from the stripe made 8-of-11 free throws en route to trailing just 22-20 at halftime. The Colts then tied the game 1:20 into the third quarter before ultimately not having enough horses.
“It definitely boosted our confidence playing hard the whole 32 minutes,” Gokey said. “It’s something that’s really important. We went out and set out a goal to play the first 3 minutes really hard, and we accomplished that goal and stayed with it from there.”
At the other end, the Colts’ aggressive matchup zone was a key factor in Wadsworth finishing 3-for-17 from 3-point range. The Grizzlies also shot a putrid 4-for-15 from the foul line.
Cloverleaf still committed 26 turnovers, but most of them came in the half court, allowing the Colts to scramble and keep the Grizzlies’ transition game from taking over.
Once Wadsworth figured out a tick-tack-toe passing game, though, it slowly pulled away.
Johnson scored eight of her 13 points in the deciding third quarter, including a bucket on a nifty backdoor cut. Wyatt gave the Grizzlies the lead for good and later hit dagger buckets in the final minutes of the game when Cloverleaf was attempting to foul.
Wyatt and Johnson combined to score 18 of Wadsworth’s 27 second-half points. Peyton Booth (7 points, 9 rebounds) added five points, six rebounds and two steals, while 6-foot backup Elizabeth Edurese’s half-court vision would have resulted in at least three assists if not for blown layups.
“We didn’t play our best, that’s for sure,” Wyatt said. “We had to stick what we knew best and execute the best we could.
“We recognized the zone and we started going inside-out and running our zone plays more efficiently than at the beginning. We finally realized what we needed to do to beat it down.”
While the Grizzlies will certainly be spending extra practice time at the free throw line — they’re below 50 percent on the season when Johnson is factored out — Cloverleaf, which also received nine points and five rebounds from center Bri Burgos and five points and six boards from small forward Emily Civittolo, will have extra bounce in its step.
The Colts are still aiming for a winning season, and their performance Wednesday certainly qualified as a moral victory.
“We talked about competing against one of the top teams around,” Carmigiano said. “To put ourselves in that position should feel pretty good. Everything was about talking about one goal, and that was just being in the game after the first quarter When that happened and we stuck to the game plan, they started believing more and more.”
Aubrey Virgin returned to the Wadsworth lineup after missing 11 games with an ankle injury. The backup post had three rebounds.
• Jenna Johnson had 11 points as the Grizzlies’ junior varsity won 49-14. It was victory No. 327 under 18th-year coach Mike Schmeltzer Sr. Jillian Miglich had nine points for the Colts.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.