Devils in title game
WR shuts down Maplewood in semifinal
BERLIN CENTER — The objective is clear for Western Reserve: win the district title. Last season, the second-seed Blue Devils fell short in the district final, 51-37, against McDonald — a loss that left a sour taste for Western Reserve.
On Wednesday evening, they made it one step closer to bringing back a district title to Berlin Center with a 57-33 home rout over seventh-seeded Maplewood. A strong defensive effort guided the Blue Devils to victory after they held the Rockets to only seven points during the first half.
“Well, I mean, you can’t spell Devils without defense, and that’s where we hang our hat, and that’s where it always starts,” Western Reserve coach Steve Miller said. “Kennedy (Miller) has done a great job defensively on some of the better players in the area.
“(Maplewood junior) Marissa Ventura is a great player. I thought (Miller) did a great job of frustrating her early. But you never stop a great player or a couple players unless you play team defense because you always got to switch, you always got to hedge, you always got to help.”
Western Reserve leaped out of the gate running, with senior Danielle Vuletich scoring nine first-quarter points to help her team lead, 17-5, after limiting the Rockets to a pair of buckets by Ventura.
Vuletich kept taking passes inside from her teammates and scoring under the basket with seeming ease, to help build a 32-7 lead at the intermission. She scored 17 points herself.
“We knew they were going to come out in a matchup 1-2-2, because that was mostly their defense that they’ve played all year,” Vuletich said. “So, in practice, we prepared for that, and we wanted to slow (Ventura) down because we knew she was the person that just ran the whole team and everything.
“And Kennedy, she did a really good job on her and (freshman) Lindsay Jones when she was in. When we put different people on her they did really good defending her, and I think just knowing their players when we watched film helped us a lot in our defensive effort.”
Ventura hit a pair of shots to open the second half, forcing the Blue Devils into a timeout. She continued to make shots, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the third period, but Western Reserve still led 44-23 going into the final eight minutes.
Vuletich credited her teammates for her offensive performance.
“I try to get open as much as I can, find the holes, post people up, but honestly I wouldn’t have got those 29 points if it wasn’t for my team passing the ball in to me and looking to me in the post,” she said. “I give all my credit to my team, and everything for my success tonight.”
Maplewood ends its season 17-8, being paced by Ventura’s 18 points, and freshman Cayleigh Richards’ nine points.
“They’re as good as we thought they were,” coach Mark Yoder said about the Blue Devils. “(Vuletich) is very effective, she works hard to get position, and she’s got some guards that know how to pass her the ball.”
Yoder said the effort was there defensively at times but the Blue Devils took advantage of their size.
“Makes it tough when you’re not used to playing against that kind of player the entire season. It makes it tough when you go against that in a tournament, somebody of that caliber, and she’s got a lot of really nice role players around her. Every girl they bring off the bench can shoot it.”
Sophomore Brooke Schantz scored nine points, and the Blue Devils (20-5) move on to face fourth-seeded East Canton at home in a district final Saturday afternoon.
After winning the district title in 2019, and the aforementioned loss last season, Western Reserve is prepared.
“We have a saying that we’re going to take back what’s ours, and hopefully we’re going to do that Saturday, so I’m really excited to be back, and I know all my teammates our excited to be there too,” Vuletich said.
“We just want to play hard, so we knew that we lost last year, and that doesn’t enrage us, but does make it want it even more this year. Us seniors, especially, we want to end our season and our district run on a high note, and winning the district final, that’s going to be the highest note you could possibly end your district run with.”