WADSWORTH — The Strongsville girls basketball team may be the underdog tonight at 7:30 against Wadsworth in the Norwalk Division I Regional championship, but don’t underestimate unpredictability and sky-high confidence.
Fresh off upsetting defending state runner-up Toledo Notre Dame Academy 33-27 in a mistake-prone yet wildly entertaining regional semifinal, the Mustangs (21-4) have reinvented themselves after a run-and-gun regular season. Their average game score in the tournament has been 47.3-34.5.
Toss in size with 6-foot-2 Kent State recruit Lindsey Thall, 5-11 Shawnee State-bound Marnae Holland and much-improved 6-0 freshman Reagan Bass and the Grizzlies (23-3) are taking Strongsville very seriously.
The winner gets Solon (24-2) or Massillon Jackson (22-4) in Columbus next week.
“Strongsville is similar to us in that they play extremely hard and they run a lot of kids in and out, so they have some pretty good depth,” Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said. “You can tell they’re willing to take coaching, and they’re pretty disciplined in that sense.”
Strongsville doesn’t have a legitimate 3-point threat outside of Thall, who has volleyball-line range, but can play at any tempo and averaged 66.4 points during a seven-game stretch in December. The Mustangs have pressed, utilized zone and limited good offensive teams with switch-everything man defense in the half court, and Thall makes everything work as an athletic shot-blocker.
The offense isn’t complex, but Thall can play inside-out and Holland is a great driver who can slow her momentum into a repertoire of post moves. Veteran point guard Drew Robinson isn’t a scorer but also doesn’t make many mistakes, while Bass scored 21 points in a district final win over Olmsted Falls.
What makes Strongsville tough to prepare for is its recent switch to a slow pace. Against Notre Dame, coach Jeff Eicher parked in a 2-3 zone and went with 6-2 Thall at center, 5-11 Holland and 6-0 Bass at forward and 5-11 freshman Sarah Robertson and 5-7 Robinson at guard. The Mustangs held the Eagles to seven points in the second half.
“They like to mix it up,” Booth said. “I think they have a lot of different things they can go to.”
Strongsville finished second in the Greater Cleveland Conference, which didn’t have a lot of depth but still featured strong individual talent like Solon center Valencia Myers, forward Gabby Mitchell and guard Mariah Modkins, Shaker Heights forward Darryn Zeigler, Mentor center Teagan Ochaya, Euclid guard Constance Chaplin and Brunswick guard Eileen Salisbury.
The Comets handed the Mustangs 73-39 and 56-39 losses and defeated the Grizzlies 49-35 on Feb. 16. Strongsville’s other defeats came to Olmsted Falls (54-51) in the regular-season finale — the Mustangs got revenge 51-45 in the district finals — and Georgia power Wesleyan (71-35), which will play for the private-school state championship this afternoon.
Notable victories have been blowouts over D-I regional qualifier St. Joseph Academy (62-26) and D-III regional finalist Elyria Catholic (49-27). Strongsville also knocked off Brunswick 56-44 and 46-35.
Fast starts and free throws have been Wadsworth’s theme this postseason, as it has outscored opponents 69-30 in first quarters and 62-18 at the stripe. State championship veterans Peyton Banks (14.5 ppg in tournament), Sophia Fortner (8.5), Lexi Lance (7.3) and Maddie Movsesian have been outstanding, along with Georgia volleyball recruit Kacie Evans (9.0).
“They present certainly a different set of problems than Perrysburg,” Booth said. “You’re not in the regional finals if you’re not good at this point, so we’re going to have our hands full. We’re going to have to play well to win, and that’s what it should be.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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