AVON LAKE — Basketball is a team game that often comes down to a series of one-on-one matchups.
When one team’s leading scorer outperforms her counterpart by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, good things are usually going to happen.
That was the case Wednesday night for Avon Lake, which got a game-high 21 points from junior guard Arianna Negron as it pulled away late for a 48-38 Southwestern Conference win over Amherst.
Negron scored 10 of her points in the fourth quarter as Avon Lake (11-2, 7-2) outscored the Comets (7-6, 5-4) 13-8 to close out the win. But the story of the night was the Shoregals’ defense that held Amherst’s standout guard and Georgia State commit Kamryn Dziak to eight points.
Dziak entered the game as Lorain County’s second-leading scorer, averaging nearly 18 points per game.
“Our rotation on defense really helped us. We knew we had to shut down Dziak and we just kept rotating defenders on her,” senior guard Allie Heschel said. “This win is so great for us tonight. It’s good to be 11-2.”
Heschel, the tallest player in the lineup at 6-feet, only scored a point but she proved her worth on the defensive end, where she spent most of the night battling Amherst’s 6-1 post Amaya Staton in the paint.
While Staton had a monster night with a team-high 16 points and 18 rebounds, Avon Lake was able to make her work for all those points and rebounds, generally keeping the Comets out of sync, offensively.
“The last three or four games Amaya has really stepped up,” Amherst coach Jay Valadez said. “We’ve hit a real meat-grinder portion of our schedule and even though we haven’t been winning some of these games, Amaya has become a real go-to player. Down the stretch, that is going to pay dividends for us.”
The Shoregals looked as though they would pull away early, building a 20-7 lead off strong first-quarter performances by Amber Achladis and Kelsey Simmerly, who each scored six early points for Avon Lake.
The Comets withstood the opening barrage and scored the final six points of the first half to cut the deficit to 27-19 at the half.
Amherst began the third quarter on a 9-1 run to tie the game at 28 on a Audrey McConihe layup with 3:31 remaining. Before the Comets could score another point, Dziak picked up her fourth foul, and with the star point guard sitting on the bench the offense began to unravel.
“Kam’s our leader and she picked up her fourth (foul) when we were down two and when she came out our team panicked,” Valadez said. “She is the glue. She does everything for us. It’s hard to overcome when she’s out. Our girls play hard. No one plays harder than we do, but that won’t make up for panicking.”
Meanwhile, the veteran Shoregals remained composed in the face of the Amherst rally and put the game away in the fourth quarter by going to the free throw line 14 times.
“We wanted this game really bad,” Negron said. “Usually, if we get our heads down, we start messing things up on defense. So we were determined to keep our heads up and keep playing well.”
With the win, the Shoregals kept their SWC titles hopes alive at the midway point of the schedule. However, Avon Lake still remains two games behind Olmsted Falls, which improved to 9-0 in league play Wednesday with a 45-44 win over Berea-Midpark.
“We came out in the first half with good intensity,” Avon Lake coach Dave Zvara said. “Amherst is a good team. We knew they were going to make a run, but we kept our composure and we were able to hold on.
“The girls showed they have the will to win, they have the heart. You can coach all you want, but if they don’t have the heart, there is nothing I can do.”