ONTARIO — The Rogers Rams are headed to the Division II state girls basketball semifinals Thursday, advancing there with a 52-40 victory over Bellevue in Friday night’s regional championship game at Ontario High School.
The 12th-ranked Rams (24-4) were led by 15 points from senior guard Sasha Dailey, plus they got 10 and nine points, respectively, from sophomores Keasja Peace and Akienreh Johnson.
“We started off a little slow, but we realized we didn’t want this to be the end, so we kept playing hard,” Dailey said. “I wasn’t relaxed until there was about a minute left because you never know. This is the best feeling of my high school career.
“We worked hard this year. We picked it up. We didn’t want to lose. It’s my senior year and I didn’t want to end it early. We kept playing and came out on top.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from this game
Rogers will play in a state semifinal Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. They will face second-ranked Kettering Alter (28-0), which defeated seventh-ranked Springfield Kenton Ridge (26-2) on Friday 65-48.
Rogers took an 8-3 lead after one quarter, bumped it to 27-15 by halftime, and held a 37-25 edge entering the final quarter. The Rams closed the game by building a 43-28 lead midway in the fourth quarter and successfully running a semi-delay game over the final four minutes.
“It took a lot of hard work,” fourth-year Rogers coach Lamar Smith said. “We got to this game last year and lost to Clyde. The girls worked very hard this summer, and this was their goal [to] get back.
“We went through some tough teams to get here. It was battle, every game we played. I’m very proud of our kids.”
Bellevue (22-5) was paced by 17 points from Carly Santoro and got nine from Jenna Strayer.
This will be Rogers’ first appearance in a girls state final four, and the fourth by a Toledo Public Schools team from the City League in the last six years, joining Start (2009 and 2011) and Waite (2010).
Reaching state extends a four-year climb under coach Smith, who took the team to its first district final in his first season (2010-11), got the Rams to the regional semifinals the following year, and to the regional final last season.
The Rams shot poorly (4 for 15) in the opening quarter, but that mattered little as Bellevue had trouble even setting up its own half-court offense early. The Redmen hit just one of their seven first-quarter shots.
Rogers got on track behind senior fourth-year starter and team leader Dailey, who scored nine of her 11 first-half points in the Rams’ 19-12 second quarter.
The only thing that separated the Redmen from being blown out before the break was the play of Santoro, who hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored 12 of her team’s 15 first-half points.
The Rams took a 12-point lead to the break when Sydney Petty (six points) scored on a put-back basket with four seconds left in the half.
Still up by 12 after three quarters, Rogers put things out of reach when it built the lead to 50-32 on a three-point play from Peace with 3:22 remaining, and then a 15-foot jumper from Marquelle Williams with 2:34 to play.
“This feels great,” said Johnson, who topped Rogers with seven rebounds. “We’ve been preparing for a year for going to states. We don’t want to just go. We want to win.
“We’ve worked so hard to get here. Running cross country, lifting weights, working out with trainers all year just to get where we are now. I think the difference tonight was we probably wanted it more. We have six seniors on this team and we didn’t want them to go out like that.”
The Rams were 22 of 50 (44 percent) from the field, 7 of 12 from the line, outrebounded the Redmen 32-29, and forced 16 turnovers while committing just eight.
Bellevue was 12 of 39 (31 percent) from the field and 9 of 14 at the line.
“We had [an edge in] size, and our pressure started bothering them a little bit,” Smith said. “Our girls were a little slow coming out, but I felt confident that we would wear them down. The pressure started picking up and we wore them down inside.”