BY J. PATRICK EAKEN | MIRROR SPORTS — In Anthony Wayne’s first-ever appearance at the Division I girls basketball tournament, the Generals faced the gauntlet.
Reynoldsburg, with three NCAA D-I signees, found a way to wear them down and take a 67-48 victory at the University of Dayton Arena last Friday.
The Raiders, 26-2, went on to win the state championship, while AW saw its season end at 22-6.
“Hats off to Reynolds-burg,” said AW coach Jami Carter. “We knew coming in that they were a very talented team. They were aggressive and can get to the rim. It was a great game, great atmosphere.”
Freshman forward Elise Bender led her team with a double-double – 20 points and 16 rebounds – along with two assists and two blocked shots.
For Bender, getting to play on the big stage in her first season of varsity basketball was a dream come true. She found out what a real pressure defense means.
“It was very exciting that we can play against tough competition like they are,” Bender said.
“Reynoldsburg was very good and it was very nice to have that competition and be able to do this. It was amazing, but I think they had a lot of pressure and that we needed to keep composed.”
The Raiders outscored the Generals, 22-11, in points off turnovers, forcing 21 miscues, including 12 steals. Reynoldsburg outscored AW 38-22 in the paint and 27-15 off fast breaks.
“Containing their pressure, for sure, was one thing we had talked about and also slowing their offensive ability,” Carter said.
“They can score at will at times. I felt we did that well in spurts and then they got us on the back end. That was our main team goal and we talked about composure and staying disciplined, so being able to control what we can control.”
Within two minutes, Reynoldsburg opened an 11-1 lead, making it hard for AW to come back.
“We knew that they would come out strong at the beginning of the game, so that was no surprise,” Carter said. “We just could not knock down a couple buckets and we had a couple quick turnovers.”
However, the Generals never gave up, closing the gap to 17-10 after one quarter. AW senior forward Jenna Rybicki scored on a feed from Elise Bender, closing the gap to four, 23-19, with two minutes remaining before halftime.
Rybicki thought the Generals were ready to make their move and take the lead with momentum on their side.
“The whole game we had to keep in the right mental state no matter what would happen, even if we were down by 15 or so,” Rybicki said.
“We can bring it back and we can make it better, so we just tried to fight up until the end. When we had it to four and that is really when we thought we had them, but just fighting to the end is the biggest thing.
“We always stay the course – even if we did not start out strong, I felt like we made a commitment to come back in that first part of the second quarter.”
The Raiders opened the second half on a 15-3 run after a 6-0 stretch to end the half, completing a 21-3 run. It was too much to overcome for AW.
“(In) the third quarter, we had some key kids in foul trouble, so it was trying to piecemeal some things together. I felt like our kids who came off the bench contributed quite well tonight, also,” Carter said.
Rybicki, whose career ended when she got her fifth personal with 4:56 remaining, knew her team had depth but thought it was compromised by the 21 fouls whistled against it.
“It’s pretty frustrating, but I’m in a good place that our bench could handle it doing what needed to be done,” she said. “We have some really good people coming off the bench. We have got a deep bench, so with (junior forward) Mallori Pollock coming in, she can clean up everything I left.”
Freshman forward Brooke Bender had 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists for the Generals, while Rybicki added six points, four rebounds and two assists and senior forward Sophia Schneider scored four points.
In addition, senior guard Payton Miller had two assists and three steals and Pollock, senior guard Amelia Womack and sophomore guard Tatum Roder scored two points each.
Reynoldsburg was led by senior guard Mya Perry, an Ohio State commit, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Another senior guard, Imarianah Russell, a West Virginia commit, had 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and blocked two shots.
Makiya Miller, a senior guard who will play at Wright State, scored six points.