As the old saying goes, it seemed like Central Catholic "couldn't throw it in the ocean" in the first half of its City League girls basketball playoff semifinal last night against Start on the Spartans' new court.
But the Fighting Irish (16-3) found the answer they needed on the defensive end, erasing a nine-point halftime lead and surviving for a 45-41 victory before a crowd of 2,100.
"I think our team only plays excited when the defense is really going," Central coach Steve Pfahler said. "We turned it up a notch in the second half and we forced them into a lot of things.
"In the second half we scored out of it and that built our confidence. Then, we were able to hit some free throws there at the end, and they made some mistakes."
Central, ranked No. 9 in the Ohio Division I poll, will face three-time defending CL champion Waite (13-6) in the City title game Saturday at 3 p.m. here. The top-seeded Indians advanced with a 68-58 win over Notre Dame in last night's first semifinal.
Start (16-3) looked to have things rolling before the break, turning an early five-point Irish lead into a 25-14 advantage on a Shaleca McCorey free throw with 57.7 seconds left in the half.
Central, which had hit just five of its first 29 shots from the field at that point, picked up some momentum by closing the first half on back-to-back transition baskets from Brianna Jones (11 points, nine rebounds) and Sharise Calhoun (17 points).
"To come back after being down 11, that's a really big accomplishment for our team," Calhoun said. "We pulled together and played as a team at the end, and that's what wins.
"You have to have that confidence that no matter what, even if you're down by 20, you still can win the game."
As the Irish turned up the defensive heat after the break, Start slowly self-destructed, committing nine turnovers in each the third and fourth quarters.
After Start forward Azia Bishop scored on an eight-footer from the lane to put her team up 36-31 with 1:37 left in the third period, the Spartans went the next 6:29 without a single point.
Meanwhile, Central chipped away, using an 8-0 run to take a three-point lead on Jones' 12-foot jumper with 4:48 remaining.
"Our coaches told us that everything starts with defense," Calhoun said, "from rebounding to pressuring the ball. That's what gets our offense going."
T.T. Arnold (nine points) finally broke the ice with a 3-pointer to pull Start even at 39-39 with
3:08 left in the game.
It was the last field goal of the game for either team, and the only basket for the Spartans in their final 13 attempts of the game, which ended in a parade to the foul line.
Central hit 6 of its 10 free throws in the final 2:18, Start just two of six foul shots.
"In the second half their run-and-jump [defense] hurt us," Start coach Bob Brown said. "We weren't running the right stuff, and we had a stretch where we might've had eight straight turnovers.
"We didn't handle the pressure well. They just pushed our offense back to half court, and they were jumping and trapping and giving us problems."
An added blow for Start came with 1:16 to play and the score tied at 41 when talented freshman guard Maleeka Kynard fell hard on her back and neck during a scramble for a rebound near the Irish basket.
Kynard, who did not return, had to be helped off the court and later received medical treatment.
Calhoun netted a pair at the stripe for a 44-41 edge with 21.7 seconds to play, and Danielle Lewis (nine points) clinched things with another free throw with seven ticks left.
Central was 15-of-50 (30 percent) from the field, 13-of-22 from the line, and forced 31 Start turnovers while committing 22.
The Spartans were 16-of-53 (30 percent) from the field, 7-of-19 from the line, and outrebounded the Irish 50-31.
Yolanda Richardson grabbed 22 rebounds to go with her six points and teammate Bishop pulled down 15 boards and tallied a team-high 10 points.
Contact Steve Junga at:
Peterina Jones scored 13 points to lead the visiting Woodward girls to their first victory of the season last night, 34-31 over Maumee Valley.
Nollie Brown paced Maumee Valley (2-15) with 20 points.