COLUMBIANA-The Columbiana girls basketball team was served a reminder Wednesday about the dangers of not being mentally sharp for a tournament game.
Facing a two-win McDonald team with nothing to lose, the top-seeded Clippers were trailing in the second quarter before asserting control and pulling away from the 14th-seed Blue Devils, 68-32, in a Division IV sectional opener.
Columbiana (21-2) will host Youngstown Christian at 7 p.m. Saturday in a sectional final. The Clippers recognize they can not afford to come out flat again.
"We weren't focused and ready to play in the first half," Columbiana junior Baylie Mook said. "I had faith that we were going to pull through, but there is no way we are going to get anywhere if we think we are just going to walk in and blow teams out."
Mook led the Clippers with 29 points, while Aleah Whitacre had 15 points and 17 rebounds and Emily Witmer had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Columbiana won its two regular season meetings with the Blue Devils by scores of 75-40 and 104-28 respectively, but the Clippers committed seven early turnovers and found themselves trailing 13-11 early in the second quarter.
"Our kids were out of it mentally and McDonald played hard," Columbiana coach Ron Moschella said. "We didn't execute the game plan and didn't recognize our mistakes. I've never seen us play like that."
The Blue Devils continued to hang tough and only trailed 20-17 with two minutes to play before halftime The Clippers then went on a 9-0 run to close out the first half, capped off by a Mook three-pointer. Witmer and Whitacre began to impose their will with rebounding while Brynn Pennell came off the bench to ignite the defense with four steals.
"Emily is a great player and she came through for us when we needed her," Mook said. "Everybody on the team began to hustle."
"Brynn (Pennell) came of the bench and really gave us some good minutes in the second quarter," Moschella said.
When the Clippers came out for the second half and forced four straight turnovers the game was all but over. The Clippers lead would not get below 20 points the rest of the way.
"We had a discussion at halftime and the players all admitted they did not come out mentally prepared and we came out with much better focus in the second half," Moschella said. "We executed our defense better and Baylie (Mook) really made us go offensively."
Mook played while battling a cold and also hyperextended her knee late in the third quarter. She later returned.
"I felt OK," Mook said "My throat was just sore. In the third quarter I just felt my knee lock up but it loosened and felt okay after a little bit."
Jaydin Stellmar led the Blue Devils with 13 points.
"Our kids left everything they had on the floor," McDonald coach Amy Dolsak said. "I thought the key was going to be boxing-out and rebounding and they just began wearing us down on the boards."
McDonald finishes its season at 2-22.
MCDONALD SCORING: Alyssa Ritz 0-0-0, Jaydin Stellmar 6-1-13, Brenna Rupe 4-1-9, Sara Joseph 3-0-6, Samantha Johnson 0-2-2, Sierra Welch 0-0-0, Samantha Homa 1-0-2, Heidi Hoffmann 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 14, 4-7: 32.
COLUMBIANA SCORING: Baylie Mook 11-4-29, Aleah Whitacre 7-1-15, Bri Gingher 1-0-2, Lauren Schlueter 0-1-1, Emily Witmer 6-3-15, Mollie Donnelly 1-0-3, Brynn Pennell 1-1-3, Alexa Tringhese 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 27, 10-17: 68.
Three-point goals: Columbiana 4 (Mook 3, Donnelly).