CUYAHOGA FALLS-Before many games, South Range coach Tony Matisi goes over the opponent's roster and zeroes in on an underclassman or other inexperienced player for the Raiders to exploit. He couldn't find any on the Smithville Smithies .
With its battle-tested starting lineup of five seniors, not to mention a considerable size and strength advantage, Smithville overpowered South Range 44-16 in a Division III regional semifinal Wednesday at Cuyahoga Falls High School.
"Their team has been through the wars before," Matisi said. "That's what worried us the most. They've played in big tournament games before, there was no going after anybody."
Smithville (25-2) advances to its third regional final in the last five years and will face Beachwood at 1:30 Saturday. The Raiders finish their season-Matisi's first at the helm-with a school-record 23-4 record and their first regional appearance since 1998.
"We knew we had the potential for something special when we started putting the pieces together before the season," South Range senior Sierra Petrella said. "We learned how to trust each other and keep going on matter what."
It was apparent right away that the Smithies were bigger and more physical at every position on the floor, making them a huge chore for the Raiders to defend without fouling. Ashley Sharp and Starla Sharp each picked up their third fouls in the second quarter.
"It was a little like playing against a boys team," Starla Sharp said. "Smithville is a very good team and is a lot stronger than us."
Smithville rolled to a 31-7 halftime lead by pounding the ball inside early to 5-foot-11 senior Natalie Indermuhle, who finished with nine points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks. Senior Macy McKelley-also 5-foot-11-posed another matchup problem with her hot outside shooting, nailing three three-pointers to finish with 14 points and four rebounds.
"We scrimmaged them in October and the result was about the same," Matisi said. "We've had better defensive night, but their strength is at a different level than ours. The closest thing we saw to them was West Branch. They were very hard to stay with. We would play 20 seconds of hard defense and let up for two seconds and they would find an opening."
Ashley Sharp led the Raiders with seven points, while 6-foot-3 junior Sara Durr was the only Raider who had any success under the basket, finishing with six points and two blocks. The Raiders were never able to rev up their pressure defense, which fueled them all season. They were down 13-1 by the time they made their first field goal late in the first quarter.
"There was no room for us the whole night," Matisi said. "The driving lanes were cut off, and we couldn't finish when we did penetrate because of their size. All year we have been a transition team and I'd like to work on our half-court offense more during the offseason."
With the outcome determined by halftime, the Smithies scaled down their attack in the second half while the Raiders seemed to settle in a bit, playing the Smithies to a draw in the third quarter.
"We knew we weren't going to be able to score, but we wanted to go out playing hard defense," Matisi said.
Beachwood defeated Pymatuning Valley, 41-29, in the other semifinal.
Besancon and point guard Adrianna Fike both started in Smithville's 2012 state semifinal loss to Columbus Africentric, while McKelley played 24 minutes off the bench.
The 16 South Range points were the lowest girls basketball single-game total in school history. The previous low was 24 points against Apple Creek Waynedale in 1983.
The Raiders mustered only one steal in the first half.
SOUTH RANGE: 5-2-4-5-16
SOUTH RANGE SCORING: Jordan Youngs 0-0-0, Starla Sharp 1-0-2, Ashley Sharp 3-0-7, Morgan Czopur 0-0-0, Sierra Petrella 0-1-1, Sara Durr 3-0-6, Marketta Gabriel 0-0-0, Kendall Syms 0-0-0, Lynnie Ritter 0-0-0, Taylor Naples 0-0-0, Kate Yeagley 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 7, 1-2: 16.
SMITHVILLE SCORING: Adrianna Fike 2-1-5, Natalie Indermuhle 3-3-9, Macy McKelley 5-1-14, Olivia Besancon 4-2-12, Kylie Snell 0-0-0, Leia Miller 1-0-2, Lauren Erickson 0-0-0, Emily Horst 0-0-0, Jordan McConnell 1-0-2, Kennedy Kull 0-0-0, Zoe Bates 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 16, 7-9: 44.
Three-point goals: South Range 1 (Ashley Sharp), Smithville 5 (McKelley 3, Besancon 2).