MASSILLON - The Western Reserve girls basketball team got its first taste of regional playoff action Thursday evening.
Unfortunately, it was against the traditionally-strong powerhouse Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans.
Much faster, much more powerful and more ahead of the game, the Bishops held the Blue Devils to nine first half points in the Division IV regional semifinals and kept opening the lead even wider as the Bishops cruised to a 67-31 victory at Massillon Perry High School.
The Bishops (25-1) will face Cuyahoga Heights - who also had a dominant 52-27 victory Thursday against Mapleton - for the Division IV regional championship.
Right off the bat the Bishops controlled the game, catching the Blue Devils (20-7) off guard with a flurry of offense led by senior Alexis Kirkbride, scoring 11 of her game-high 15 points in the first quarter. The Bishops continued to open the lead throughout the game to the point where the team led by 40 going into the fourth quarter.
Along with the strong offense, Bishop Rosecrans coach Gale Kirkbride noted the importance of defense for the Bishops early on.
"Our defense and pressure is the key," Kirkbride said. "If we're playing good, solid defense and putting pressure on the ball getting steals and transistion, that's where we work best."
The Blue Devils knew it would be trouble as the Blue Devils battled double-digit deficits throughout the game.
"I told the girls, they're not going to come out and throw jabs, they're going to throw haymakers," Western Reserve coach Steve Miller said. "We wanted to defend the perimeter, we knew they had three girls who were phenomenal shooters, but it's like 'pick your poison', do you want them to kill you from down low or do you want them to kill you from outside."
As part of that tough offense came the dominant defense of the Bishops as the Blue Devils committed over 22 turnovers in the first half on offense.
"Twenty-plus turnovers isn't going to win you many games, but twenty turnovers has won us a lot," Miller said. "We are not a good ball-handling team. Sometimes you might wonder who the point guard is out there, and sometimes I do too."
The most dominant the Blue Devils got was in the fourth quarter. Already too little, too late, the offense woke up with efforts from sophomore Lauren Falasca and junior Aleah Hughes - who had nine points each - and even with a 40-point deficit, Hughes noted the team wasn't willing to throw in the towel.
"We weren't going to give up, we weren't going to just give it to them," Hughes said. "We were just going to keep fighting and fought until the last buzzer went off."
Despite the massive setback, the Blue Devils will look back on a season that had little expectations that resulted in a great outcome.
"Our seniors took us to a place we've never been before," Miller said. "We've now got here and see what it takes. We now know what we're up against, and the ladies in the locker room are hurting, and I hate to say this but sometimes you need to go through something like this so you realize 'I got to have an image, a destiny, so this doesn't happen to me next season.' Maybe we'll be fortunate enough to have another good turnover."
Hughes also felt the improvement from this season, and looks to better herself as she returns for her senior year.
"From the beginning of this year, we improved a ton," Hughes said. "I'll be working on getting better for next season so that I can pump up my team as a senior."
As Hughes and Falasca return, the Blue Devils will get ready as they know that they will be the team to beat.
"We have a great nucleus and a great team coming back," Miller said. "We have a target on our back locally, and locally everyone's going to try to use us as gaging how good are we whether it's in the summer or it's in local games. We're going to set our goals in the next 30 days, and try to get back here next year."
Western Reserve was held to just single digits scoring in the first three quarters.
Of all five Blue Devils seniors to play, only Taylor Kibbert scored.
Bishop Rosecrans had not competed in the regional semifinals since 1999. The Bishops fell to Berlin Hiland in the district finals in 2012 and 2013.
Bishop Rosecrans' only loss this season was on Dec. 28 to Reedsville Eastern 70-53.
W. RESERVE: 2-7-4-18-31
BISHOP ROSECRANS SCORING: Sydney Miller 1-2-4, Lauren Falasca 4-1-9, Bethany Burger 0-0-0, Rachel Maslach 1-0-2, Paige Ewing 0-0-0, Gabby Duran 0-0-0, Taylor Kilbert 1-0-2, Tory White 1-0-3, Maddie Kreitzberg 0-0-0 ,Gabby Stubbs 0-0-0, Aleah Hughes 2-5-9, Heather Lude 1-0-2. TEAM TOTALS: 11, 8-15: 31.
WESTERN RESERVE SCORING: Samantha Swackhauser 0-0-0, Kloie Johnson 4-2-11, Alexis Kirkbride 5-2-15, Jessica Nash 2-1-6, Alyson McLaughlin 2-0-4, Molly Nash 4-0-8, Riley Hagy 2-3-7, Maddie Chandler 3-1-7, Madeline Nash 1-1-3, Jess Smith 0-2-2, Abby Hutchenson 1-2-4. TEAM TOTALS: 24, 14-21: 67.
Three-point goals: Bishop Rosecrans 5 (Kirkbride 3, Johnson, J. Nash), Western Reserve 1 (White).
CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS: 17-13-13-9-52
MAPLETON SCORING: Sydney Wilder 0-2-2, Jessica Smith 3-0-9, Faith Edwards 2-0-6, Hannah Krause 3-0-6, Leslie Rogers 1-2-4, Jessie Vance 0-0-0, Mackenzie Guy 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 9, 4-6: 27.
CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS SCORING: Allison Triskett 3-0-9, Ariel Rebello 0-0-0, Elisabeth Spence 6-6-20, Lucy Mervar 2-0-5, Dayna Denner 1-0-3, Erica Seneski 1-0-3, Jenna Stegmaier 2-3-7, Val Santiago 0-0-0, Lauren Goetz 2-0-4. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 10-17: 52.
Three-point goals: Mapleton 3 (Smith 3, Edwards 2, Krause 3), Cuyahoga Heights 8 (Triskett 3, Spence 2, Denner, Mervar, Seneski).