Pregame plans called for this to be a column about Canton McKinley star Kierstan Bell’s place among the all-time greats in Ohio high school girls basketball history, but a proud and tradition-rich Wadsworth program put the complete kibosh on that idea.
Executing a much, much better game plan than this scribe came up with, the Grizzlies held Bell to season-low 17 points en route to a 51-46 win Thursday in the Medina Division I District final.
The 6-foot Bell, who last season became the first sophomore to win Ohio’s Ms. Basketball award, entered the game averaging 34.0 points and was coming off a 41-point performance against Wooster in the district semifinals.
Defended primarily by the generously listed 5-6 Maddie “Mad Dog” Movsesian and 5-5 Sophia Fortner, Bell went 7-for-18 from the field and 2-for-5 from the foul line.
Better still for the Grizzlies, the young lady who already has scholarship offers from every major college in the country except UConn picked up two fouls in the first period and her third just 38 seconds into the second, forcing her to sit the rest of the half as Wadsworth built a 10-point lead.
Even with Bell playing almost the entire second half, the Grizzlies held her to 13 points — three came on a game-ending 55-footer — by basically daring two to three other McKinley players to shoot the ball.
“Coach (Andrew) Booth, every game we have a great game plan,” Toledo commit Fortner said. “This game, it was even better.”
When Bell, who was unable to do much damage in transition, attempted to attack from the perimeter, she was hounded by Movsesian or Fortner, with another player always nearby to help.
“I wanted to be very irritating to her,” Movsesian said. “I wanted her to get very frustrated. By (Booth) putting me on her, he wanted me to get into her head a little bit. I was up to the challenge. I loved it.”
Except for one really silly foul in the backcourt and another due largely to over-hustle while going for a steal — the latter was her third of the game — Bell kept her composure fairly well, but the Bulldogs never figured out how to attack Wadsworth’s man-to-man defense in half-court sets.
Bell frequently started on the block, where she had at least a 6-inch height advantage over Movsesian, but never really sat down and demanded the ball. Compounding matters, McKinley never really got the ball to the wing and made an entry pass to her, instead choosing to have Bell circle around a screen and catch it on the perimeter.
Of course, because the Grizzlies basically weren’t guarding two or three other players on the perimeter, back-side help was always nearby.
“I thought for sure they would try to lob it over me,” Movsesian said. “But I knew I had people behind me that would help me.”
To put what the Grizzlies accomplished into perspective, consider that Bell scored at least 30 points in 17 of McKinley’s 25 games this season, including five with at least 40 and a school-record 53.
Her 833 points this season are a school record, breaking the mark of 724 she set while averaging 25.6 a game in 2016-17.
With 2,104 points for her career, Bell has a chance of finishing as the second-leading scorer in Ohio history. Marlene Stollings, who played at Beaver Eastern from 1989-93, leads with 3,514, followed by Olmsted Falls’ Joanne Inneman (2,988, 1978-82), West Holmes’ Lisa Cline (2,958, 1981-85), Garfield Heights Trinity’s Semeka Randall (2,799, 1993-97) and Logan’s Katie Smith (2,740, 1988-92).
Smith is a former Ms. Basketball winner who went on to become two-time Big Ten Player of the Year at Ohio State and was named to the WNBA’s “Top 20 at 20 (years of age)” team. She is generally considered the best player in Ohio prep history.
Randall, a two-time Ms. Basketball at Trinity who won a national title at Tennessee and also went on to play in the WNBA, is probably next in line.
“Those two are pioneers, in my opinion,” said McKinley’s Pam Davis, who completed her 26th year as a high school head coach. “It’s hard to compare them. … But (Bell) can be in the same breath as the all-time greats.
“Kierstan is amazing. She’s very humble and she’s the hardest worker I have. She’s always first in sprints, first in weightlifting. She demands from the kids and has a very high basketball IQ. And she demands a lot from herself.”
The friendly and polite Bell shoots 3-pointers from distance with amazing ease, is strong, finishes extremely well at the rim and will no doubt be even better as a senior, especially if she consistently plays harder on the defensive end and learns to grab rebounds with two hands rather than attempting to tip the ball to herself.
“I just take things in and stay focused,” she said. “I can’t get into all the hype. It makes me feel great (to be mentioned with the all-time greats). God gave me a gift to play basketball. I’m just returning it.”
With another D-I college recruit in Lexi Lance, who will join Fortner at Toledo, Wadsworth is no slouch from a talent standpoint. But the real keys to the Grizzlies’ year-in, year-out success are coaching, intelligence, discipline, hard work, defense and playing together as a team.
“We wanted to make (Bell) earn everything she got, get in her face and pester her,” Fortner said. “We wanted to make her work. Nothing comes easy; everything is earned. She’s a fantastic player and I give her all the credit.
“The game unfolded pretty nicely for us (with Bell’s early foul trouble), but maybe in the next one it won’t. We’ll just keep playing.”
And probably winning.
And perhaps foiling a reporter’s pregame column plans.