Big second half propels Elyria Catholic Panthers to district final

BARBERTON — Tied at halftime to Rootstown in the Division III Barberton District Semifinal, top-seeded Elyria Catholic came out of the locker room and showed why it is the top seed in the district. The Panthers fed off of their aggressive defense and controlled the tempo of the second half to carry them to a 63-53 win over the Rovers on Tuesday.

Elyria Catholic forced 23 Rootstown turnovers and scored 39 second half points to get the win and advance to Friday night’s district final.

“They came out and played a triangle-and-2, and it gave us some fits early,” Elyria Catholic coach Eric Rothgery said. “We weren’t getting our shots. We changed a few things up there at halftime and I think that opened things up for us.”

Those adjustments included a great second half performance from Riley Schill, who had 11 of her team-high 17 points for the Panthers (20-4). The freshman shook off some early nerves and helped spark Elyria Catholic’s offense through great ball movement in the half-court.

“I was a little nervous coming out for it, being a big game and all,” Schill said. “I just had to get focused before the game.

“When there’s more ball movement, we know we’re going to get easier shots. So we focus on working the ball around just to try and get some layups.”

Rootstown (11-14) got a tremendous performance from forward Casey Miracle who had a double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Miracle did a great amount of damage in the paint, and forced Elyria Catholic’s Karissa McGrath, who had 16 points and nine rebounds, into early foul trouble.

“She just keeps working in there,” Rothgery said about Miracle. “Defensively, I thought we did alright though. We gave up some easy buckets inside. But otherwise, I thought we did alright.”

Despite the great play of Miracle, Elyria Catholic was effective in the paint themselves, moving the ball and getting great shots in the second half.

“We just kept driving, hopefully to finish some of them,” Schill said. “We knew the looks were there. We just had to finish them.”

Deadlocked at 24 with Rootstown, the Panthers started to find their offense in the third quarter. EC slowly grabbed a lead before the ball came to Erin Herschelman with just seconds left in the third, and she hit her only basket to put the Panthers up 41-35 going into the fourth quarter.

Hershelman’s jumper sparked an 11-0 run that turned a 4-point game at 39-35 into a 50-35 Elyria Catholic lead early in the fourth that all but put the game away.

“I was looking at my book and I was going to tell Erin she had one basket, but it was huge,” Rothgery said. “That was nice at the end of that quarter. There’s nothing that hurts worse than a shot at the buzzer. It just hurts, and it was a big basket.”

Schill scored seven points in the fourth quarter to help keep EC out in front by double-digits. Rothgery has plenty of trust in his freshman guard and Schill has rewarded that trust with great performances.

“There’s nothing that we don’t expect,” Rothgery said. “Riley’s an excellent player. She’s going to be a big-time player in our area the next couple of years. She’s smart on the floor, she knows how to handle the ball and she’s not worried about being in the big game.”

Next up for Elyria Catholic is the district final on Friday night against Mogadore, who defeated Atwater Waterloo 56-52 earlier in the night.

“We’re just going to have to get out on their shooters,” Rothgery said. “I’ve seen Mogadore a couple of times. They spread it out, five out and like to shoot. Nobody on that team’s afraid to shoot. We’re going to have to be on top of everybody.”

Last Updated: 2/26/2013 11:56:20 PM EST

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