GREENFORD-The South Range girls basketball team has had time to iron out the wrinkles under first-year coach Tony Matisi and now with tournament time fast approaching, the Raiders are impressively sharpening their game.
South Range's aggressive, trapping defense disrupted Crestview's offensive flow for almost the entire night as the Raiders pulled away early in the second half for a 55-35 win Thursday.
"In the last month, the girls have really begun to figure things out defensively and it's fun to watch," South Range coach Tony Matisi said. "We are getting smarter with each game. Early in the season I didn't know if it would come around like this but I has been thrilling to see the light go on."
The Raiders forced 20 steals and never trailed as they improve to 16-2 overall and 12-1 in the Inter-Tri County League upper tier, remaining in a first-place deadlock with Springfield. South Range's last league game is next Saturday at Mineral Ridge. Springfield travels to Crestview next Friday.
Sophomore guard Morgan Czopur benefited from some of those turnovers, leading South Range with 17 points-including a seven-for-eight effort from the foul line.
"When we are aggressive defensively it allows us to get out quickly on offense and get some easy baskets, Czopur said.
Freshman guard Alexis Gates had nine points as the Rebels fall to 10-9 overall and 7-6 in the ITCL upper tier.
"We could never get settled in our offense tonight," Crestview coach Rick Gates said. "South Range has a nice athletic group and they forced us into some bad situations."
The Raider defense harassed the Crestview guards with quick double-teams from the outset as guard Ashley Sharp had four of her seven steals in the first quarter as South Range raced ahead 13-5. Crestview pulled within two midway through the second quarter before another Raider surge gave them a 26-18 halftime lead-one that would have been larger if not for a handful of missed layups. Starla Sharp had 11 points and five steals, while Jordan Youngs had four steals for the Raiders.
"They (South Range) really understand team defense," Gates said. "They defend off the ball well, help each other out and know when to double team. Tony (Matisi) has coached them really well."
The Raiders steadily pulled away in the third quarter. Czopur hit a three to make it 31-18 and hit Sierra Petrella with an up-court pass at the buzzer to make it 41-23.
"At that point we already had a nice lead and the plan was not to rush anything and wait to get an open shot," Czopur said. "We didn't want to let Crestview back in."
After the Raiders play makeup game with Beaver Local on Saturday, the biggest test of the year arrives on Monday when 17-4 West Branch and start point guard Melinda Trimmer invade South Range High School.
"As players we haven't really thought to much about West Branch yet," Czopur said. "We've just been focusing one game at a time.
"We are going to have to play a perfect game to beat them," Matisi said. "It will boil down to how we deal with Trimmer, she is so hard to stop one-on-one. We have to deny her the ball. I told (guard) Jordan Youngs that she may be having fun on defense against some of these other teams, but Trimmer's a different task. It will be a good gauge for us."
South Range won the jayvee game 39-19. Lynnie Ritter had 12 points for the raiders. Danielle Yanssens had six points for Crestview.
Gates-having seen both-expects another even matchup if Springfield and South Range (seeded No. 1 and No. 2) meet again in the Struthers Div. III district tournament.
"It's a fun matchup because of the contrasting styles," Gates said. "Springfield is more old-school basketball with its size and how they deliberately run their offense. South Range is more athletic and fast-paced. It's a neat matchup."
SOUTH RANGE: 13-13-15-14-55
CRESTVIEW SCORING: Ana Hardenbrook 2-3-7, Alexis Gates 3-3-9, Emilee Chlebus 1-1-3, Tristan Huff 1-0-2, Emily Ferris 1-0-3, Dana Drinnon 1-0-2, Sydni Bowker 2-2-7, Hope Halas 0-0-0, Danielle Yanssens 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 12, 8-21: 35.
SOUTH RANGE SCORING: Starla Sharp 4-2-11, Ashley Sharp 3-1-8, Sierra Petrella 2-0-4, Morgan Czopur 4-7-17, Jordan Youngs 2-1-6, Sara Durr 2-0-4, Kendall Syms 1-0-2, Marketta Gabriel 0-0-0, Lynnie Ritter 1-0-2, Taylor Naples 0-1-1, Katie Yeagley 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 19, 12-20: 55.
Three-point goals: Crestview 2 (Ferris, Bowker), South Range 5 (Czopur 2, Youngs, Ashley Sharp, Starla Sharp.).