BARBERTON, Ohio — The Laurel Gators sat dejected on the bench at Barberton High School Friday night as the West Branch student section briefly chanted “overrated.”
The Gators had never been to the regional final before in Division II, and with their defense, they had a shot against the Warriors, another strong defensive team.
But West Branch forced Laurel to have one of its roughest shooting nights of the season against an effective zone defense, and the Gators lost, 41-37, in the Division II, Region 5 girls basketball final.
“We told them that we were proud of them, we told our seniors that we loved them,” coach Tim McMahon said. “We told them that it just wasn’t our night. We got pushed around a little bit, but even with all that, just an off shooting night.”
After being down 18-12 at halftime, the Gators (22-4) had a more energized second half. Taylor Thierry, Giuliana Marinozzi and Mari Bickley, some of the team’s top drivers, attacked the rim more and the offense opened up.
The Gators were down 28-20 heading into the fourth quarter. Better pace fueled Laurel’s surge near the end of the third. On one play, Marinozzi dribbled the ball down the floor and scored a layup, creating the boost her team needed. A senior, Marinozzi was the Gators’ third-leading scorer, contributing seven points.
Not too long after Marinozzi’s layup, Bickley scored a floater off the glass. After Bickley’s bucket, Thierry scored and got fouled on a layup. Bickley made a 3-pointer to cut the Warriors’ lead to seven, but the Gators didn’t have enough time. She made another 3-pointer with under a minute left to cut the Warriors’ lead to 39-34. She scored a team-high 15 points and made two of the Gators’ three 3-pointers.
“Mari had a great season,” McMahon said. “She’s been in big moments. She’s a great player, just like the rest of them. It just wasn’t our night when it mattered. We just could not throw the ball in the ocean. We never miss that many layups and threes.”
The Gators struggled early against the zone in the first half, as their passes didn’t whip around fast enough. The Warriors simply contained their areas, moving with the pass as needed.
When the Gators tried driving through the zone, they saw a bit more success. Thierry scored the Gators first field goal on a drive to the hoop. With her ability to shoot and move without the ball, Marinozzi helped space the floor. Thierry, Bickley and Marinozzi combined for 10 of the Gators’ first-half points.
The Warriors (24-3) were led by senior Peyton Alazaus, who scored a team-high 11 points. Anna Lippiatt and Carly Scarpitti scored seven points apiece.
The Gators had a season filled with accomplishments, going the farthest in the postseason in school history. They also had the most wins in school history. The Gators will only be losing Marinozzi and Anna Soeder to graduation.
The talent is certainly there to not make this appearance a one-off.
“We like to spread you out no matter what you’re in because we got kids that can shoot from all four quadrants,” McMahon said. “We got kids that can finish at the rim. We missed a boatload of layups. And I know that people said we’re really talented and we got this kid, and we got that kid. We ain’t never been here before. We got three upperclassmen that have got knocked out in the district final their entire career.”