SOLON — The Wadsworth girls basketball team traveled 40 miles northeast to Solon on Friday and served notice it is ready for anything the postseason tournament throws at it.
Less than a week after Solon beat Medina on the road by nine points to earn the Greater Cleveland Conference title, Wadsworth gave the Comets all they could handle on senior night. The Grizzlies fell 51-46, but had two chances to tie or win the game in the final minute after trailing by 11 early in the fourth quarter.
“There is no substitute for being able to play a game right before the tournament with this atmosphere and that quality of a team and that quality of coaching,” Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said.
Added senior Maria Busson: “We knew that win or lose, this was going to be a competitive battle. Solon is a lot like some of the teams we’re going to see in the tournament, so this was definitely huge.”
Wadsworth (17-5) took a two-point lead into halftime after a defensive battle early, but Solon (17-5) got untracked in the third quarter to take a five-point lead into the fourth, then stretched that to 11 with six minutes to play.
At that point, the Grizzlies turned up the heat, getting into their standard defensive pressure that they avoided up until then because of the Comets’ quickness and ballhandlers.
Solon wilted against the pressure and Busson (12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) was at the heart of it all.
The Comets had nine turnovers in the fourth quarter — it had nine in the first three quarters — and Busson hit 3-of-4 free throws after a Taylor Leatherman 3-pointer to close the gap to five points. A steal and jumper by E’Anna Won cut the lead to three, and a layup by sophomore Stephanie Andrews with 1:05 left made the score 46-45.
“It was definitely important to get a couple of those turnovers and get the momentum going for us,” Busson said.
Solon called timeout, but Busson stole the inbounds pass and Wadsworth had the ball with 50 seconds left and a chance to take the lead. A pass on the perimeter was deflected off the Grizzlies, though, and the ball went back to Solon.
Senior Riyah Ali (14 points) hit both ends of a one-and-one with 20 seconds left to push the lead back to three points, but Wadsworth marched right down and got an open 3-point look in the right corner for Kylee Batey, whose shot rolled in and out. Hailey Weaver (11 points) sealed it for Solon with two free throws with 10 seconds left.
The one potentially bad omen for Wadsworth came as time ran out, as Batey got caught up in a pile and stayed on the ground. She had her left knee checked on the Wadsworth bench for a couple of minutes before being able to walk to the locker room under her own power.
Still, there were plenty of positives for Wadsworth. The Grizzlies smothered Solon shooters in the first half, holding the Comets to 30 percent shooting and a 3-of-14 effort from behind the 3-point line. Senior Sammi Rinicella, who led Solon with 15 points against Medina, was shut out in the first half and finished with just two points on 1-of-5 shooting.
Solon picked up the offense in the third quarter, though, hitting 6-of-12 from the field, with senior guard Minah Ali scoring 15 of her game-high 19 points in the second half.
“That third quarter hurt us,” Booth said. “It was really a matter of defensive positioning. We gave them three point-blank layups, and we didn’t give them any of that in the first half. We talked about the second half, we had a lot of things that went wrong that we had a lot to do with, shooting ourselves in the foot. But we still had a chance.”
The game marked the third since Wadsworth had to change its rotation, with Booth using seven players against Solon — starters Andrews, Batey, Busson, Leatherman and Won along with senior Ally Elchlinger and freshman Regan Simpson off the bench.
“We’ve had to retool a little, not only what we do but how we do it,” Booth said. “We’ve had more minutes, and different roles, and it’s difficult, but the kids have worked hard and been great.”
Busson said the Solon contest was the best she’s felt in the new rotation.
“The tournament’s a big step up, and we’re getting used to the rotation and what we need to do,” she said. “I think I feel better after this game, and I think we looked better on the court.”
Busson was the only Wadsworth player in double digits, but all seven Grizzlies scored, including six second-half points for Elchlinger. Andrews, making just her second start of the year, had eight rebounds as the Grizzlies dominated the glass 39-20.
“Rebounding’s about heart and want to, and we came out with a lot of want to off the bus tonight,” Booth said.
Wadsworth held Solon to six points in the first half and rolled to a 47-15 victory in the junior varsity game. Hayden Hassinger led the Grizzlies with 19 points and Allie McCall added 10.
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Solon 51, Wadsworth 46
WADSWORTH 8 15 10 13 — 46
SOLON 9 12 17 13 — 51
Wadsworth — Taylor Leatherman 3-0-7, Maria Busson 3-4-12, Stephanie Andrews 2-0-4, Kylee Batey 3-1-7, E’Anna Won 2-0-4, Regan Simpson 2-2-6, Allison Elchlinger 3-0-6. TOTALS: 18-7-46.
Solon — Sammi Rinicella 1-0-2, Kailyn McQueen 1-0-3, Hailey Weaver 3-4-11, Riyah Ali 4-4-14, Minah Ali 6-5-19, Nadia Gibson 0-0-0, Maria Lekovec 1-0-2. TOTALS: 16-13-51.
3-point goals — Busson 2, Leatherman, R. Ali 2, M. Ali 2, Weaver, McQueen. Rebounds — Wadsworth 39 (Andrews 8), Solon 20 (Weaver 5). Assists — Wadsworth 10 (Won, Busson 3), Solon 9 (M. Ali, Weaver 3). Records — Wadsworth (17-5), Solon (17-5). Junior varsity — Wadsworth 47, Solon 15.