BARBERTON, Ohio — The battle of zone defenses ensued Tuesday night at Barberton High School.
With a trip to the Division II girls basketball regional final on the line, the Laurel Gators and Norton Panthers both used zone defenses, forcing the other to make careful passes and find the open player.
The Gators prevailed, defeating the Panthers, 66-43. With the win, the Gators will play Beloit West Branch in the regional final. This is the first time in program history Laurel has been to the regional final for Division II.
The Gators mostly used a combination of a zone, hard traps and a press. The mixture of schemes allowed twin sisters Taylor Thierry and Haley Thierry to flash their athleticism, playing passing lanes and forcing turnovers. The Thierry sisters particularly helped amp up the Gators’ pressure in the second half, as the team played better help defense to take away some easy looks.
“I think we know where each other is on the court, and we know what help defense is,” Taylor Thierry said. “And if one person’s on the ball, we know that another person’s going to go help. And I think that puts a lot of pressure on the other team, and it forces turnovers and we just feed off of that.”
On offense, Taylor helped spread the floor and score points down low. She scored a team-high 18 points and knocked down two 3-pointers. Haley scored 15 points and made three 3-pointers.
Giuliana Marinozzi, one of two seniors on Laurel, was one of the Gators’ best offensive options, making 3-pointers and finding the openings within the Panthers’ 3-2 zone. Marinozzi scored 14 points and made four 3-pointers.
With the Thierry sisters leading the pressure defensively, the Gators could ignite their break quickly. After leading 30-29 at half, the Gators dominated the second half, outscoring the Panthers 36-14.
“They thrive kind of in that fog of war area,” coach Tim McMahon said. “Like go make a play, leave a responsibility, go make a play. Gotta give them as much leeway as you can as a coach because they can cover 30 feet in half a second.”
During the first half, the Gators weren’t as stout defensively in the halfcourt, with their zone sometimes leaving Norton’s best shooters open.
The Panthers’ halfcourt offense was their best strength in the first half. Norton swung the ball around, forcing Laurel to rotate and be out of position to defend shots. Bailey Acord scored a team-high 12 points and shot 2-of-2 from the free throw line.
As the Gators prepare for their first Division II regional final in program history, they are ready to keep showing what their hard work can produce.
“It’s huge,” Taylor Thierry said. “I’m so grateful. We’ve worked hard for this since the beginning of the year, offseason. I think we’ve all been getting ready mentally and physically.”