SOLON — Alexa Nau held the ball near center court as the final seconds melted away. Multiple dejected Solon players walked by on their way to the bench, and the 5-foot-5 senior point guard stood motionless with a smile so wide it probably strained a few muscles.
This was the Medina girls basketball team’s moment Saturday, because the defending Division I state runner-up was no longer in first place in the Greater Cleveland Conference.
The Bees crashed the Northeast Ohio party. They made timely 3-pointers seemingly whenever they needed them. They played their customary long-armed, suffocating defense. They were better together.
Final score: Medina 47, Solon 39. There’s only room for one star atop the GCC Christmas tree.
“I’m just ecstatic right now,” beaming small forward Madison Luthy said. “Beating Solon here, I’ve never won here in four years I’ve been (in the program). Winning here is absolutely amazing.
“Oh, my gosh, the locker room was crazy. We were screaming and just so excited to win.”
Despite 24 turnovers, 6-for-21 shooting in the second half and 19 points, eight rebounds and six steals from Comets sophomore center Hailey Weaver, the Bees (9-0, 6-0) never trailed after Luthy made the score 37-34 on a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter. Medina then made 7-of-10 free throws over the final 2:18.
Luthy drilled 4-of-7 threes — most of them were dramatic — en route to a team-high 16 points, her highest output since 18 at Euclid on Jan. 4, 2017. Power forward Sarah McKee made big plays early and late while finishing with eight points and six rebounds, Nau added eight points and 6-3 center Lindsey Linard was dominant defensively with eight rebounds, four steals and four blocks.
The Bees held quarter leads of 13-12, 22-18 and 33-27 as Solon made only 1-of-15 3-pointers through 24 minutes. Medina also elected to call very few plays — it didn’t run its first until 7:30 left in the second quarter — preferring to rely on ball natural movement that often led to open 3-pointers.
Entering play averaging 72.0 points, the Comets (6-2, 5-1) made 14-of-49 field goals (.286), 8-of-11 free throws and 3-of-21 3-pointers (.143) in being held to fewer than 40 points for the first time in 55 games. Weaver got hers, but 15-point scorer Riyah Ali had eight, 12-point scorer Sammi Rinicella two and 8.7-point scorer Minah Ali four.
“We came out with an edge,” Luthy said. “We wanted to remain undefeated.”
Considering how well their man and 2-3 defenses were executing, the Bees appeared to be in good shape with a six-point lead heading into the fourth. The 5-10 Weaver, however, went on a 7-1 personal run to tie the game at 34.
Luthy answered with a 3-pointer, and Solon’s Kailyn McQueen make two free throws. Nau then split a backcourt trap and fired a 40-foot chest pass to Luthy, who spurned a potential odd-man break for a heat-check 3-pointer that made the score 40-36 with 2:41 to play and the Bees 9-for-20 from distance.
A free throw barrage followed, highlighted by backup guard Katie Neate (5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) making both ends of a one-and-one for a 44-39 advantage with 1:26 remaining. The last gasp came when McKee swatted a Rinicella 3-point attempt and forced a turnover, making the final 72 seconds a formality.
The Bees warmed up for the biggest day of the season by belting the Neil Diamond hit “Sweet Caroline” during halftime of the junior varsity game. They ended it by jumping up and down like kids receiving the gift they had always wanted from Santa Claus on Christmas morning.
Team Better Together is back in business.
“Happy, excited. This is a big win,” coach Karen Kase said. “Gosh, I’m just proud of the girls for being prepared, locked in and being able to execute. Obviously it’s not the same Solon team as in the past, but it’s still the program and still the defending GCC champ, defending state semifinalist. They’re just solid.
“It’s sort of a silly group, a goofy group of girls,” she continued. “I’m more game-face, business-like, but that’s who they are and that’s how they play best. We’ve given them a little leeway on that, and they come out and play with joy. They were just ready to go.”
Medina 47, Solon 39
MEDINA 13 9 11 14 — 47
SOLON 12 6 9 12 — 39
Medina — Madison Luthy 6-0-16, Sarah McKee 2-3-8, Lindsey Linard 0-3-3, Abby McMullen 0-0-0, Alexa Nau 3-0-8, Katie Neate 0-5-5, Alysen Dwyer 1-0-3, Elizabeth Stuart 1-0-3, Rowan McDonald 0-1-1. TOTALS: 13-12-47.
Solon — Kailyn McQueen 0-3-3, Sammi Rinicella 1-0-2, Hailey Weaver 7-3-19, Riyah Ali 3-2-8, Minah Ali 2-0-4, Maria Leskovec 0-0-0, Nadia Gibson 1-0-3. TOTALS: 14-8-39.
3-point goals — Luthy 4, Nau 2, McKee, Dwyer, Stuart, Weaver 2, Gibson. Rebounds — Medina 37 (Linard 8), Solon 21 (Weaver 8). Assists — Medina 8 (Nau, Neate 2), Solon 4 (M. Ali 2). Records — Medina (9-0, 6-0), Solon (6-2, 5-1). Junior varsity — Medina 55, Solon 21.