The Rams, the defending Division II state champions, made it difficult for the Lady Red to get open looks Friday night and dominated the last 19 minutes in a convincing 59-37 regional championship victory at a near-capacity Pete Henry Gymnasium in Mansfield.
It marked the fourth time in six years that Rogers has eliminated Bellevue in a regional final, a frustrating situation for a talented Lady Red team that finished its season with a 24-3 record.
Bellevue coach Kory Santoro was in no mood to talk after he exited the locker room, picking up his scorebook and making a quick statement to the media.
“They were the better team tonight. They’re from Toledo, they got 100,000 people to choose from. We all know what they do,” Santoro said as the Rams were wrapping up their celebration. “We didn’t play very well tonight. They’re the better team. My hat’s off to them. I wish the best for them at state. That’s it.”
Rogers coach Lamar Smith later refuted any insinuation that his program is not above board.
“That’s a very low blow,” he said. “We’re just like (Toledo) Notre Dame and every other school in Toledo. We have open enrollment just like the Catholic schools.
“It sounds like he’s very upset. That’s no class to make a crack at our program. Our city is just bigger and kids can choose where they want to go to school. I work with the kids that come to my program.”
Bellevue stuck with the Rams (25-2) for most of the first half, tying the game at 20-20 on a Riley Mohr jumper that ignited the huge Bellevue crowd. But those good feelings didn’t last long as Rogers’ Zia Cooke hit a jumper 12 seconds later to give Rogers a lead it didn’t lose. Cooke’s shot was the start of an 11-0 run, helping the Rams build a comfortable cushion.
Cooke, who will play basketball at South Carolina, finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. She’s a star senior, but the Rams have plenty of talent in the pipeline. Sophomores Cortney Gardner (21 points) and Madison Royal-Davis (16 points, 10 rebounds) were more than just complimentary players. Royal-Davis went over 1,000 career points with a basket just nine seconds into the game.
Gardner’s defensive pressure hurt Bellevue, which had fewer turnovers than Rogers (14-12) but shot just 25 percent from the field (12 for 48).
The Rams led 31-22 at halftime and scored five quick points to start the third quarter. A 3-pointer from about 30 feet out by Bellevue junior Casey Santoro cut the Rogers lead to 38-26 midway through the third quarter, but it was the last glimmer of hope for the Lady Red.
“Our game plan was to put a lot of pressure on them and shut their guards down. We did that tonight,” Smith said. “Our girls work very hard in practice; I gave them a day off (Wednesday) so I knew their legs would come back. Our defense stepped up big, and in turn our offense.”
The Lady Red managed only 15 points in the second half, and open looks were few and far between. Cooke credited a switch to a 2-3 zone.
Bellevue senior Payton Vogel, who was tasked with guarding Cooke much of the night, was a standout for the Lady Red in her last high school game. The Tiffin University-bound Vogel finished with 12 points, the only Bellevue player to reach double figures, and was one of four seniors to accept the regional runner-up trophy.
Casey Santoro managed eight points against Rogers’ relentless defense. Mohr gave Bellevue an early spark with six points — all in the second quarter.
Rogers used its height advantage to outrebound Bellevue 41-26. Cory Santoro led the Lady Red with six rebounds.
When asked what made the Rams so good, Smith referenced a tough schedule.
“We’ve been in a lot of good games this year,” he said. “Our girls executed and didn’t let the crowd get to them. They were dialed in tonight and I’m very proud of them.”
Cory Santoro 1-1—4, Gabby Turner 1-0—2, Payton Vogel 3-5—12, Casey Santoro 3-1—8, Riley Mohr 3-0—6, Alex Fiske 0-2—2, Emma Bollinger 1-0—3. TOTALS 12-9—37.
TOLEDO ROGERS (25-2)
Zia Cooke 6-3—16, Madison Royal-Davis 6-3—16, Cortney Gardner 8-2—21, Tanaziah Hines 3-0—6. TOTALS 23-8—59.
Bellevue 10 12 9 6 — 37
Rogers 12 19 16 12 — 59
3-point FGs: (B) Cory Santoro, Vogel, Casey Santoro, Bollinger; (TR) Cooke, Royal-Davis, Gardner 3