BELLEVUE - No one can accuse Calvert coach Tim Ritzler of ducking competition. The Senecas' non-conference schedule contains numerous challenges for the Division IV team. The latest came Saturday as Calvert traveled to take on Bellevue, a Division II district finalist from a year ago, and one of northwest Ohio's premier players in Carly Santoro.
Any thoughts of a possible upset were erased early on as the Redmen raced out to a 21-4 lead after one quarter and cruised to a 57-27 victory.
Ritzler called Bellevue's defense the best his team has faced all year.
"We wanted to challenge ourselves by playing good teams like this," Ritzler said. "We played Clyde earlier this year, who's probably the best offensive team we played. Bellevue's probably the best defensive team we played. They really got up and pressured us. It took us a little bit of time to get used to it. We weren't used to seeing that kind of pressure. I think after the first quarter and in the second half we settled down a little bit and played right with them. It was just, we came out rough that first quarter and they really came after us."
Bellevue came out of the gates strong, forcing Calvert into turnovers on its first seven possessions and in nine of its first 10. Meanwhile the Redmen offense was feeding off the defense's play scoring the game's first 14 points.
"We came out really tough," said Santoro, who nearly matched Calvert's total with 25 points. "We played really good defense, which was emphasized throughout the week. We just needed to come out tough and we did. Everyone stepped up and hit shots. Janelle (Watson) had a lot of good rebounds. Everyone played really good.
Calvert only made one field goal in the first half, and it didn't come until 5:17 was left in the second quarter.
"I thought we came out and played with a lot of intensity, especially on the defensive end of the floor," Bellevue coach Ryan Orshoski said after his team improved to 8-2. "I thought our half court defense was the catalyst to everything we did today. We were able to get some run outs off of our defense and that set the tone for the rest of the day."
Santoro admits that extra time in her team's practices is dedicated toward defense.
"A lot of practice, about a half hour a day, we work on our defense," she said. "We take a lot of pride in our defense because our defensive stops get our offense going.
"We deny the ball a lot. We usually do a lot of pressing, but we had respect for them and knew they were a good guard-oriented team, so we dropped back and we just pressured the ball a lot and got some steals."
Calvert's early turnovers allowed Bellevue to get a good amount of easy baskets in transition. The Redmen shot 62 1/2 percent (10 of 16) in the first quarter.
As the game went on, Calvert (7-4) began to settle in. The Senecas were able to find success working the ball into the post, where Nicole Bickley was able to tally 12 points to go along with eight rebounds.
Ritzler said his team was able to come out and convert on shots that weren't falling early on.
"We settled down a little bit, we started playing to our strengths," Ritzler said. "We started going inside a little bit more. I think Nicole had a really good game inside. I think our biggest thing, we started making some of our shots. As good a defense as they played, when we had open shots, we didn't do a good job of converting them. Second half, we started hitting some open looks and that builds the confidence in the girls."
Meanwhile, Santoro was hitting her open looks all day, even some looks that weren't as open. Orshoski said she is still working on developing aspects of her game.
"Carly has done a lot of the scoring load for us all year. We really want her to play with better pace and we want to improve her shot selection," he said. "That's what you saw today. She didn't take a bad shot. She shot a very good 2-point field goal percentage and she didn't force anything."
Ritzler has already seen his team face off against Clyde's Amanda Cahill, an Indiana recruit. However, he didn't hesitate to list Santoro as one of the best he's seen.
"We played Clyde this year and the Cahill girl is pretty tough but Santoro's right there with her," he said. "She's a very nice player; she's very hard to stop. She's got quickness, she can shoot, she handles the ball, she's a good player."