By BRANDON SHRIDER
FOSTORIA — A pair of easy points in the first five seconds off of a tip-play gave Fostoria St. Wendelin an early lead over Liberty-Benton on Wednesday.
A timeout and six minutes later, though, the Mohawks were still stuck at two points.
“I felt like in the first quarter we came out pretty unfocused,” St. Wendelin coach Aaron Smith said after his Mohawks overcame their slow start to post a 69-44 nonleague win over Liberty-Benton.
“Kam(ryn Troike) missed some easy inside shots and (Allie) Rutter missed a couple layups. We were leaving some girls open so I gently reminded them that this is a basketball game.
“You can’t get behind Liberty-Benton very far because they’ll spread us out. But once we got into our rhythm and got into the game plan we were fine.”
St. Wendelin improved to 10-3 with the win. Liberty-Benton fell to 5-6.
The Eagles weren’t shy about spreading St. Wendelin out early.
Senior guard Krista Simon had eight points in the first 10 minutes and freshman guard Savanah Richards added five, including two on a steal-and-finsh at the other end.
L-B’s coach Nate Irwin deployed a pesky full-court press, which helped amplify the team’s offense and mount a sizable lead.
Rutter and Hailee Burns struggled to comfortably bring the ball up the floor, Troike struggled to get position and make shots and the Eagles capitalized on the early mistakes by running out in transition and jumping ahead 11-4 with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We had to try to speed (St. Wendelin) up,” Irwin said.
“On the half-court game they’re so good with having a dominating force inside with Kam. We knew we couldn’t just come back and sit in half-court defense against them.”
The Mohawks gathered themselves and exploded for a pair of 24-point quarters to take a commanding 14-point lead.
“I told them, ‘They can’t press you if they don’t score.’ So we had to tighten up the defense,” Smith said.
“(Krista) Simon, she was killing us from the corner (in the first half). She made it way too many times, so we had to make adjustments and try to let somebody else score.”
“Krista Simon (12 points, 4 rebounds) stepped up and hit some big shots for us in the first half and kind of kept us in the game when we were strugglign a little bit in our half-court offense,” Irwin said. “But we didn’t keep that same continuity in the second half. Their defense was very good in the second half and didn’t give us any easy ones.”
The 6-foot-4 Troike got in a second-half rhythm, Rutter took command of the press and patience led to continuity on offense which limited the Eagles’ offensive effectiveness.
Trailing 15-11 through 10 minutes, St. Wendelin ended the first half on a 19-6 run including 10 points from Troike and six from Rutter.
Troike finished with game highs of 37 points and 15 rebounds. Rutter was 8 for 10 from the line, scored 19 points and had 10 assists.
“Kam got on track and I thought Rutter played an excellent game. She didn’t shoot real well, but she played a really good, heady game, kept beating the press and that was the key,” Smith said.
“Their guards played great. The Rutter girl attacked the rim well, and her and (Burns) both threw some good lob passes inside,” Irwin said.
The Eagles got within four points after a pair of Alexa Lenhart free throws two minutes into the second half. But Troike scored 13 of the Mohawks’ next 18 points to end the quarter and St. Wendelin held the Eagles to just nine points in the final 13 minutes.
“We went through a little spurt in the third quarter where we got back into it, got it within about four points or so and we were pushing the ball well up the floor. But we wore down and they came out and were ready to play in the fourth quarter and just kept extending the lead,” Irwin said.
Rutter put the game away with nine points and two more assists — both to Troike inside — in the fourth quarter.
“There’s not much you can do with that much of a size differential except speed them up. It worked at times, but (St. Wendelin) took care of the ball and didn’t turn it over enough for us to be successful with our full-court pressure,” Irwin said.
“We fought, battled and tried, but when you have a dominating post-player like that, it’s tough.”
“Liberty-Benton is always well-coached, they’re always fundamentally sound, they just didn’t have a matchup for Kam and we were able to exploit that tonight,” Smith said.
“If you have a matchup that somebody can’t fix, you have to take that matchup until you can’t do it anymore.”
Richards 4-5–13, Simon 6-0–12, Hiegel 4-0–9, Lenhart 2-2–6, DeVincentis 0-4–4, Lasiter 0-0–0, Dillon 0-0–0, Vandeneynde 0-0–0, Bishop 0-0–0, Grubinski 0-0–0, Reynolds 0-0–0. TOTALS: 16-46 11-14–44.
ST. WENDELIN (10-3)
K. Troike 17-3–37, Rutter 5-8–19, Burns 3-1–7, P. Troike 1-0–2, Krout 1-0–2, Prince 1-0–2, Gilliland 0-0–0, Weidner 0-0–0. TOTALS: 28-47 12-15–69.
Liberty-Benton 11 10 19 4 — 44
St. Wendelin 6 24 24 15 — 69
3-POINT GOALS: Liberty-Benton 1-9 (Hiegel); St. Wendelin 1-3 (Rutter).
REBOUNDS: Liberty-Benton 17 (Richards 5, Simon & DeVincentis 4); St. Wendelin 31 (K. Troike 15, Burns 9).
TURNOVERS: Liberty-Benton 9, St. Wendelin 10.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Liberty-Benton, 40-9.