Each possession and each point were a battle.
The visiting Lady Flyers had the hot hand early, outscoring the Roughriders 17-11 in the first quarter. However, Western pulled away down the stretch for a 57-49 win Saturday.
The ’Riders (13-3, 11-0) scrapped their way to remaining undefeated in the Firelands Conference, and they need just one more win to clinch at least a share of a second straight league title.
Coach Brenda Friend credited St. Paul (13-5, 8-4) with playing hard.
“They gave us everything we could handle,” she said. “Today I felt like we took one giant step forward to be ready for the next step. It’s all about us getting our swagger back; our swagger has been missing.
“I think the No. 1 key to victory is that we had some passion when we played,” Friend added. “We came out the other night and just played flat. We weren’t communicating on the defensive end. We actually met after practice the other day because we probably had our worst practice of the entire season (Friday) and we talked about what do we need to; what do we need to do to fix this because all of our goals are still in front of us.
“I felt like all the kids took it to heart and they shared some things. They all agreed we are on the same page today; we were ready to go.”
St. Paul started the game on a 6-0 run and were up 9-2 with 3:21 left in the first quarter. But Western came back to take a 10-9 lead with the clock showing 1:54.
The first quarter ended with the Lady Flyers on top, 17-11.
“We told them, ‘We had nothing to lose; all the pressure was on them.’ We just came out and played good basketball,” St. Paul coach Vicky Mahl said. “Even when they battled back, we answered. We told the girls, ‘No matter how big of a lead you have, it’s not ever safe, especially when you go someplace else and you’re on the road.’
“We’ve got bigs; we just don’t have four or five of those bigs,” she added. “It tends to take your focus away, but on the whole I don’t think we did a bad job. I told the girls in the locker room, ‘I’m proud of (you). It’s hard to come into a gym like this and play.’ Like I said, we put the pressure on them because they didn’t walk away with it today. They had to earn every point they got today and that’s a testament to how well my kids played.”
Western senior Jenna Skrada tied the game at 26 on a 3-point shot from the corner with about 25 seconds left in the first half. She then blocked St. Paul’s in-bound pass in the final seconds.
Skrada led Western with 13 points. She also grabbed five steals.
“I feel like (the) kids stepped up at different moments. My bench was phenomenal today. … That’s important; this team has to play with energy,” said Friend, who liked seeing the hustle from Skrada and other teammates. “She’s a spark plug — any time she’s in the game.”
Senior Cora Wyers scored 12 points to go with three rebounds and a blocked shot.
Classmate Emma Blankenship led Western’s rebounding effort with seven. Junior McKenna Woodruff grabbed four boards.
St. Paul junior Megan Hammersmith led all scorers with 18 points. She also had five rebounds.
Sophomore Danielle Smith grabbed four steals, handed out two assists and blocked two passes and a shot.
With the ’Riders undefeated in the FC, Friend said she sees “everything in front of us” as tournament time approaches.
“I think they feel a lot of pressure and I feel like we have these high expectations for our program and they feel like they’re not living up to their expectations, so we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves,” she said. “Today, that was the other focus. When you make a mistake, move on to the next play. Let’s just have (a) next-play mentality.
“Let’s just keep plugging away,” Friend added. “Let’s just try to keep getting better every single game and we can come together as a team because individually, we can’t do it by ourselves.”
In junior varsity action, Western had a dominating 37-8 win.
Ellie Blankenship led the team with 18 points. Isabella Zvara, who added a spark to the varsity squad off the bench, added 11.
Western hosts Norwalk for a non-league game Tuesday.
“We have a team that I think is very strong defensively. They’re very young and they bust their butt,” Friend said of Norwalk. “They’ve had some wins here at the end of the season. … They’ve got some quickness; they’ve got some youth. For us, again it’s going to be matter of handling pressure because I think they use multiple types of presses.”
St. Paul goes to Edison (14-4) for a non-conference game Tuesday. Mahl said she expects a team that is quick, big and is “senior-laden.”
Follow Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby on Facebook at “Cary Ashby — reporter & comic book blogger” and on Twitter at @Cary_reporter.
ST. PAUL (13-5, 8-4)
Anna Lukasko 3-2—8; Megan Hammersmith 7-4—18; Camille Endsley 3-3—9; Danielle Smith 2-0—6; Brooke Houck 1-0—2; Kati Kamann 1-0—2; Lauren Chandler 2-0—4. TOTALS 19-11—49.
W. RESERVE (13-3, 11-0)
Katie Hipp 2-2—6; Jenna Skrota 5-2—13; McKenna Woodruff 0-2—2; Emma Blankenship 2-2—6; Ellie Blankenship 1-0—2; Emma Weber 2-0—5; Cora Wyers 4-4—12; Isabella Zvara 1-2—4; Avery Tubbs 2-3—7. TOTALS 19-18—57.
St. Paul 17 9 7 16 — 49
W. Reserve 11 15 14 17 — 57
3-point FGs: (SP) Smith 2; (WR) Skrada
JV: Western, 37-8