But the visiting Firelands Conference co-champions fell to Buckeye Central 70-64 in a fast and physical sectional championship game Saturday at Seneca East. St. Paul ended the season 22-4 overall and 13-1 in the FC.
“What do you say? My kids played their hearts out. I don't think there were a lot of people, even though we were the No. 1 seed, who thought we were going to beat Buckeye Central. I think they thought that before the night was out,” coach Vicky Mahl said.
Senior Ashley Painley swished in her 1,000th career point with her first basket of the night.
“Congratulations to Ashley on her 1,000th point. She deserves it,” Mahl said.
Painley connected on three shots from three-point land for 18 total points. She added five rebounds.
Senior Lauren Lukasko had a double-double — her second consecutive one of the postseason. She scored 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
In addition, Lukasko had one steal, assist and blocked shot each.
Senior Caitlin Good led the Flyers with 13 points. She also grabbed four rebounds and distributed two assists.
Buckeye Central went on a 5-0 run to take a 10-5 lead with 4:11 left in the first quarter. The period ended with the Buckettes up 20-15, with Lukasko putting in a buzzer-beating layup.
Mahl had St. Paul playing zone defense to start the first half.
“They were killing us from the outside. They don't like to play man very much. When we started playing man is when they started having issues. I told the kids, ‘I know you’re tired, but you gotta gut it out,’” the coach said.
“I didn’t expect to play man for three quarters of the game. My kids did a phenomenal game on man.”
Each team wasn't afraid of shooting the three-ball. St. Paul hit seven shots from three-point land compared to five for the Buckettes.
Buckeye Central junior Jenna Karl led all scorers with 25 points. She also had a double-double, grabbing 11 rebounds. The guard hit 11 of her 13 free throws.
Senior Haley Green added 13 points and sophomore Courtney Pifher scored 10.
“They shot phenomenally from the floor in the first half,” Mahl said. “We made some adjustments at halftime and (my girls) did what I asked them to do.”
The Buckettes led 38-32 at halftime.
Senior Emma Studer, who hit all four of her free throws in the closing seconds, grabbed nine rebounds.
Mahl said pulling down boards and making sure her players put themselves in the proper position under the basket was a focus during practice.
“Ashley, Lauren and Elyse (Roth) got several big rebounds. Kaity Tomshack got a couple,” she added.
Buckeye Central took a 4-0 run to a 42-32 advantage with 6:57 in the third quarter. The home team led 51-49 to end the period.
“We made an adjustment and came back out in the second half and did much better,” Mahl said.
Painley, with about 4:15 left in the game, hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 55.
The Flyers regained the lead as Roth made a tough layup in traffic on a pass from Good. With the score 57-55 with 3:38 left, the atmosphere was electric.
“The crowd plays a big factor and we knew the crowd was going to be big (Saturday). I think the crowd helped us. Thank you to everyone who came out to support the kids,” Mahl said.
As the game clock clicked down, St. Paul and Buckeye Central fans urged their teams to take it to the next level.
“Like I said, they kept coming back and we hit a couple three’s. (We) just kept battling back. I think a lot of people thought the game was over there at the end,” Mahl said.
Buckeye Central went on a 4-0 run to take a 64-58 lead with 57 seconds left.
Painley, with 11.9 seconds in the game, took a pass from Good and hit another three-point shot to cut the score to 67-64.
“We got back with three and you have to foul. Give them credit; they hit their free throws,” Mahl said. “We didn't get to the (free-throw) line very much (Saturday), so that took a lot of effect.”
St. Paul senior Emily Baker attempted a three-pointer with three seconds on the clock, but hit off the rim.
“Some shots didn’t fall, but we were in this the whole way,” Mahl said. “My kids didn’t count themselves out and that’s what’s important. They came back and fought; they fought to the end.
“That’s what we asked them to do. If you can leave it out on the floor, that’s all I can ask them to do.”
Follow Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby on Twitter at @Cary_reporter and on Facebook at “Cary Ashby — reporter & comic book blogger.”
St. Paul 15 17 17 15 — 64
Buckeye Central 20 18 13 19 — 70
St. Paul: Ashley Painley 7-1-18, Lauren Lukasko 6-1-13, Caitlin Good 6-0-15, Emily Baker 2-0-4, Meredith Dilger 2-0-5, Kaity Tomshack 3-0-6, Elyse Roth 1-1-3 — 27-3-64
Buckeye Central: Jenna Karl 7-11-25, Erin Baldosser 3-1-7, Haley Green 5-0-13, Courtney Pifher 4-0-10, Isabelle Biglin 3-1-7, Emma Studer 1-4-6 — 24-17-70