The injury-laden Wildcats upset third-seeded Crestwood, 51-37.
AUSTINTOWN -- As expected, The Rayen School girls basketball team has advanced to the district semifinals of the Division II tournament at Fitch High School.
Not expected is the second-seeded Tigers' next opponent -- Struthers. In their biggest postseason win in nine seasons, the Wildcats (7-15) upset third-seeded Crestwood (17-4), 51-37.
"It's pretty exciting," Struthers coach John Grandy said. "I'd call this a major upset. We just played unbelievably well, with an outstanding defensive performance."
Rayen (17-4), behind the dominant guard play of senior Taniesha Holland and freshman Brittany Taylor, ousted Liberty (7-15), 55-47.
Thursday at 6 p.m. at Fitch, Rayen and Struthers will open a district semifinal doubleheader.
Struthers 51, Crestwood 37
Senior guards Cole Robenolt and Nicole McGuire harassed Crestwood's key players, guard Jessica Cowan and Brittany Mayle, into numerous mistakes as the Wildcats opened up a 34-15 lead late in the third quarter.
"This is amazing -- we only had five [regular season] wins," said Robenolt, who scored six points and pulled down 14 rebounds. "We've worked so hard and usually we don't have anything to show for it. It's great that we get another week to play."
Robenolt said her strategy was to hound Mayle.
"We felt she was the key to their whole team, so we just followed her everywhere," Robenolt said.
Cowan finished with 20 points, half of them coming in the fourth quarter with the Red Devils in desperation mode.
Grandy credited his seniors for clutch play.
"Robenolt's defense on the point guard [Mayle] was the key -- she was everywhere," Grandy said, "and McGuire hit some key foul shots.
"Ashley Galbrieth may be a freshman, but she doesn't play like one," Grandy said after Galbrieth scored 20 points. Sophomore forward Liz Valerio scored 12 while McGuire had 11 rebounds.
What makes Struthers' accomplishment even more impressive is that the Wildcats lost two starters to injury late in the season (senior point guard Ashley Ruozzo with a torn ACL and sophomore forward Amanda Ruozzo with a broken arm).
Junior Terra Stocker now handles the point.
Rayen 55, Liberty 47
Trailing 13-10 after one quarter, Holland and Taylor triggered a 10-0 run to give the Tigers control of the game.
"Brittany really came alive," Rayen coach Holly Seimeitz said. "It was her pressure defense at the top that forced turnovers and Taniesha was able to get the easy outlet [passes] to her for some easy baskets.
"It wasn't as good of a game as I wanted us [to play], but we're happy with the win," Seimeitz said. "I'm happy for Struthers -- I'm glad to see how their kids hung in there."
Liberty senior post Elaina Williams' basket near the end of the first half cut Rayen's lead to 20-15. That was as close as the Leopards would get as the Tigers nursed an 11-point lead for most of the second half.
"We felt that we really had to pick it up on defense," said Holland of the slow start. "We're looking forward to playing Struthers in a game because we scrimmaged before the season."
Holland's 21 points and Taylor's 20 led the Tigers.
Liberty coach John Hritz credited Holland's experience "versus the inexperience of our sophomore and freshman guards. [Holland and Taylor] just took the game over -- they dominated."
Williams ended her prep career with 19 points, eight rebounds and a blocked shot. Katrina Neskovich had nine points and seven rebounds while Michelle Dykes netted eight for the Leopards.