PAULDING — There is plenty to be said about getting off to a good start in basketball, especially when one bad game can stamp a dead end on the tournament trail.
A great start can mean the difference between playing the final game and playing at least another day.
On Thursday on the hardwood of Paulding High School, a blazing start meant nearly everything to the Napoleon Ladycats against a scrappy young Lima Bath team gradually finding its tournament legs seemingly by the minute.
Due in large part to a first-quarter roundball clinic, Napoleon went gangbusters for a 21-4 lead that ultimately made all the difference in a 56-40 victory over the Wildkittens in a D-II district semifinal matchup.
All five starting ‘Cats — Aubrey Shroyer, Shae Pedroza, Taylor Strock, Kaelynn Glanz and Caely Ressler — found the scoring column in the opening chapter, with junior Cait Good and freshman Emma Pedroza also getting in on the action off the bench. While Strock opened the floodgates with an old-school three-point play at the 7:03 mark, junior point guard Shae Pedroza poured seven of her 16 total points into Napoleon’s 8-of-11 quarter from the floor.
Strock, meanwhile, was perfect from the stripe in the first quarter at 3-of-3 en route to a flawless 7-of-7 performance on the night.
“Obviously that was a big key to that game. We got some momentum there and we kept it going,” said Napoleon mentor Corey Kreinbrink of his Ladycats off the blocks. “A lot of people don’t know, Caely Ressler was sick this morning and is still dealing with a little bit of the stomach bug. We met this morning and just talked about how everybody’s got to do their job and come ready to go and we would be fine. They proved me right there because Taylor came and got us going, Shae knocked down a couple of shots and everybody kind of contributed in some way.”
Wait, did he say Caely Ressler was sick?
The 5-11 Napoleon sophomore who seemed to hit all the right shots at all the right times? The same Caely Ressler who finished with a game-high 18 points and seven rebounds out of the Ladycats’ 35-24 edge off the glass by game’s end?
There was clearly nothing happening on the floor to suggest Ressler wasn’t up to par, and a huge first-stanza 3-ball to put Napoleon up 10-2 and force the Wildkittens to call time and catch their breath at the 4:50 mark was only the beginning for the sophomore ‘Cat.
“We knew we had to come out strong, and we definitely think getting off to a fast start brings us lots of energy and it definitely gets the whole team rolling,” said Ressler. “So once we got out to that fast start, we had all the confidence in the world, and that kept us holding on when they made their run.”
Because, yes, Lima Bath did make its run, and it was one that forced Napoleon to work extra hard for that district victory.
After falling headlong into that 17-point hole, Bath pulled it together nicely, hanging with Napoleon step for step through the next three quarter ... sometimes even getting a couple of steps ahead. Losing by 16 points, is that to suggest it would have been an entirely different ballgame if the Wildkittens would have been a little wilder from the start?
“We won the second quarter, we won the third quarter, and until we had to start fouling, we were leading in the fourth quarter,” said Bath head coach Greg Mauk, whose squad was bounced from the trail with a 12-11 record. “It was all the start of the game. We’ve got a lot of young kids on this team and we just didn’t come out and handle the environment like we needed to be able to in the first quarter ... and that kind of spelled our doom.”
After putting together much better efforts in very tight second and third quarters, the fourth put the game’s true heroics on display for both teams.
Down 40-26 heading into the final stretch, a Ruby Bolon bucket off a Chandler Clark give marked the spark of an 8-6 spurt capped off by a trey from senior Kaleigh Ketcham that pulled Bath to within 46-34.
The surge didn’t exactly tip the scoring table other than closing in on Napoleon by two, but much of that had to do with a tough response from Ressler and crew. While the Wildkittens were mounting the attack on a run, Ressler spent the time fighting for three clutch rebounds, finding nothing but net from the perimeter and converting in the paint on a Strock assist.
A big play by Glanz followed the flurry, as the Napoleon senior came up with an offensive board and sank a putback that matched Bath stretched the lead back to 48-34 with 5:05 showing.
“They’re a very good team,” said Ressler of Bath. “We knew they were capable of knocking down shots and they’re capable of making those runs, so we knew they were gonna make that run and we knew we had to stay solid. I’m proud of the way my teammates stepped up. We all made plays and it worked out for us.”
Bath went right back to work, though, climbing back to within 10 points twice, the first at 2:08 on a drive by sophomore Chandler Clark and the second coming via a Bolon bucket with just under a minute to play.
But when sent to the stripe in the bonus, Strock, Shae Pedroza and Ressler turned the lights out by way of perfect 8-of-8 shooting when it mattered most, with Ressler polishing off the final four. And with Bath seeing better results than Napoleon from the field in the final period, a 12-4 rebounding advantage in favor of the Ladycats proved to be as important as the freebies.
“We closed it out and I thought the kids did a real good job of making sure Shae, Caely and Taylor had the ball in their hands to get fouled and go to the line,” said Kreinbrink, whose ‘Cats were a stellar 16-of-17 from the foul line on the game. “We have confidence in every one of them stepping to the line, but I think some of the kids think it’s almost a sure thing when those three are stepping to the line, especially at the end of the game.
“That’s how you’ve got to close out tournament games, get tough rebounds and then knock down free throws,” he added. “And the kids did a good job of doing that tonight.”
The Wildkittens adjusted to Napoleon’s classic defensive pressure up and down the lineup, turning the ball over just once in the second half. But again, a 21-4 well is hard to climb out of against a team that can turn on the jets when most needed with a wide array of players on either end of the court.
“After we settled down we were fine, but I have to give credit to Napoleon because I thought they played extremely well defensively,” said Mauk. “They made it really hard for us to get a lot of good looks at the basket. And along with the bad start and the fact that they played really good defense, that’s what got us.”
Top-seeded Napoleon (19-5) will now face second-seeded Wapakoneta (14-10) — which got by Van Wert 43-39 in Thursday’s nightcap — in a return to Paulding on Saturday. The D-II district championship meeting is slated to tip off at 7 p.m.
LIMA BATH (40) — Hardison 14; E. Bolon 3; Dackin 3; Clark 7; R. Bolon 10; Ketcham 3; Craig 0; Renner 0. Totals 16-57 2-6 40.
NAPOLEON (56) — Rieger 0; Lankenau 0; Shroyer 0; S. Pedroza 16; Jones 0; Wiemken 0; Strock 9; Glanz 9; Helberg 0; E. Pedroza 2; Ressler 18; Good 2. Totals 18-41 16-17 56.
Three-point goals: Lima Bath — Hardison 2, E. Bolon, Dackin, Clark, Ketcham. Napoleon — S. Pedroza 2, Ressler 2. Rebounds: Lima Bath 24 (R. Bolon 5), Napoleon 35 (Ressler 7). Turnovers: Lima Bath 7, Napoleon 10.
Lima Bath 4 11 11 14 — 40
Napoleon 21 10 9 16 — 56