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Girls Basketball: Rockets reach Elite Eight with thrilling comeback win

Girls Basketball: Rockets reach Elite Eight with thrilling comeback win


Rockets junior Naomi Benson (21) puts up a shot as she gets fouled during the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

By Tom Nader

Publisher and Editor

The magic is not over for the Streetsboro girls basketball team.

In fact, Tuesday may have been the most magical night yet.

The Rockets’ historic season added another memorable moment with a thrilling, come-from-behind, 45-42 victory over St. Vincent-St. Mary on Tuesday in a Division II regional semifinal hosted at Barberton High School.

The Rockets’ Sydney Abbuhl splits the defense on her way to a layup during Tuesday’s first quarter.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

After falling behind 39-34, Streetsboro closed the game on an 11-3 run over the game’s final 5 minutes to capture the victory and advance to Ohio’s Elite Eight.

Next up for the Rockets (23-4) is Friday’s regional championship vs. Laurel, which defeated Gilmour Academy on Tuesday 51-38.

“What an emotional win,” Streetsboro girls basketball coach Carl Singer said. “I am still trying to process the night, to be honest. I am just so proud of the girls. They have put in all of the hard work and they deserve this moment.”

With a little over 6 minutes to play, it appeared like the moment would belong to the Fighting Irish (21-6).

A 3-pointer from the right wing by Kendal Batchik, which was followed by a layup from Jaycee Wallace pushed the Irish lead to 39-34. A crushing five-point swing after the Rockets had battled back from as many as 11 in the second quarter to tie the score at 34-34.

Then Naomi Benson found a spark.

Benson had made contributions to that point in the game, but the final minutes of Tuesday’s game is where she left him imprint.

Streetsboro senior forward Ella Kassan (left) fights for a rebound with a St. Vincent-St. Mary

It started with a post move on the right block that resulted in an and-one bucket that she completed with the made free throw to cut St. Vincent-St. Mary’s lead to 39-36.

After a turnover gave the ball back to the Rockets, Benson set up in the high post as her teammate Olivia Johnson-Wilson brough the ball up the court.

Benson and Johnson-Wilson locked eyes and Benson, with a look of determination and confidence, mouthed the words, “Get me the ball,” to Johnson-Wilson.

Johnson-Wilson sent a lob pass over a pair of Irish defenders that Benson tracked down, controlled and put in the easy layup to tie the score again at 39-39.

The Rockets then pushed back into the lead when Sydney Abbuhl split a pair of free throws to give her team a 40-39 advantage. It was the first lead for the Rockets since 11-10 midway through the first quarter.

“I was trying to only focus on the next play and the next opportunity, and we were talking to our girls about that same thing,” said Singer about his team playing from behind. “I didn’t think we could afford to look ahead, and I was never ready to think that the game was over for us.”

Streetsboro extended its lead to 44-39, with Benson scoring two more layups to make it happen. The first came on a backdoor cut on a designed set, with Ella Kassan delivering a difficult pass in traffic. The second came on a rebound in traffic that Benson corralled, pulled away from a St. Vincent-St. Mary player, pivoted and then laid in with 1:10 to play.

The Rockets’ Olivia Johnson-Wilson goes up for a shot in front of the Irish’s Kendal Batchik.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

The Irish broke a 5-minute scoring drought moments later on a 3-pointer from Tatum Smith that made it 44-42 and SVSM had a golden opportunity to tie the score when it swiped a cross-court pass by the Rockets that created a chance for a transition layup that was not converted and turned into a missed shot that was rebounded by Benson, who was fouled.

She split the pair at the free-throw line, hitting her second shot, to make it 45-42 and Singer called timeout to set up his defense with 15.6 seconds to play.

The Irish quickly advanced the ball up the court and connected on a few perimeter passes, but Streetsboro’s defense was playing tight to the line to defend a 3-point shot and St. Vincent-St. Mary was limited in its looks and had to settle for a highly contested desperation shot at the top of the arc as time expired.

Benson, who missed a handful of close-range layups through the course of the first three quarters, made up for it with an impressive fourth quarter.

The 6-foot-3 junior made 4-of-5 shots and scored 11 of her team’s 12 points in the decisive quarter.

“Naomi is a special person and a special player,” Singer said. “We have been telling her all year to believe in yourself, trust in yourself that you are that player. You are the player that can take over a game, and she was determined that we were not going to lose this game tonight.”

While Benson may have provided the late-game heroics, she was not the only player that put her stamp on the victory.

Carlee Bedford finished with 16 points, scoring all of them in the first and third quarters when none of her teammates could find an offensive rhythm.

“Carlee is a player that has stepped up for us when we needed it all year long,” Singer said. “She is capable of so much. She has size, is athletic, can shoot, can get to the bucket. She did every part of that tonight, and she played a great game.”

Streetsboro’s Sydney Abbuhl pulls through some contact by St. Vincent-St. Mary defender Kendal Batchik during Tuesday’s regional semifinal.
Paisley Nader/Portage Sports

Junior Sydney Abbuhl scored five points, but it was her calming presence and playmaking that stood out on Tuesday. Johnson-Wilson, a sophomore, was the primary ball-handler against the Irish’s swarming defense. Senior Ella Kassan was key across multiple areas, including the way she worked the high-low post alongside Benson, as well as her defensive presence. Senior Maddy Hajec provided valuable minutes in key moments of the game while Abbuhl was forced to miss large portions of the second and third quarters in foul trouble.

Streetsboro’s fourth-quarter run that allowed them to get back into the game, and eventually take the lead, was catapulted by a defensive decision to go from man-to-man to a matchup 2-3 zone.

“The girls get 100 percent of the credit for how that worked out tonight,” Singer said. “We have hardly run any 2-3 zone all season long, and we only practiced it for one day because of the quick turnaround from Saturday’s district final to tonight. The way we run it, if you are not hustling, moving and watching, you can really get burned, but our girls were incredibly active on it and they did a great job.”

St. Vincent-St. Mary finished as the No. 6 ranked team in the state in the final Associated Press state poll this season.


(At Barberton High School)

STREETSBORO (45) — Olivia Johnson-Wilson 1 0-2 2; Sydney Abbuhl 2 1-2 5; Naomi Benson 7 3-17; Ella Kssan 1 3-4 5; Carlee Bedford 5 5-8 16; Maddy Hajec 0 0-0 0; Carra Tiller 0 0-0 0; Maiya Taylor 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 12-23 45.

ST. VINCENT-ST. MARY (42) — Melania Cornute 3 1-2 7; Kamiah Pryor 1 1-2 3; Kendal Batchik 2 0-0 6; Erica King 2 2-3 3; Juicer Wallace 4 1-2 9; Denni Lawrence 1 0-0 2; Chenoa Moss 2 0-0 4; Tatum Smith 3 0-0 8. Totals 17 4-9 42.

STREETSBORO 13-5-15-12—45

SVSM 13-11-10-8—42

Three-Point Goals — Streetsboro (1-8): Bedford 1. St. Vincent-St. Mary (4-26): Batchik 2, Smith 2.

Total Rebounds — Streetsboro 29 (Benson 15), St. Vincent-St. Mary 24 (Cornute 6).

Total Assists — St. Vincent-St. Mary 15 (King 5), Streetsboro (Johnson-Wilson 4).

Total Steals — St. Vincent-St. Mary 11 (King, Wallace 3), Streetsboro 6 (Johnson-Wilson 4).

Total Blocked Shots — Streetsboro 4 (Benson 4), St. Vincent-St. Mary 1 (King 1).

Total Turnovers — Streetsboro 20-15.

Total Fouls — St. Vincent-St. Mary 20-11.

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