BC moves past Cornerstone Christian for spot in finals

MASSILLON — It seemed like every time Buckeye Central would build at least a two-possession lead, Cornerstone Christian was there to respond.

The Bucks built a lead of eight points with a little more than a minute left, then had to survive one last push by Cornerstone.

Buckeye Central made just enough free throws in the final 60 seconds to hold off the No. 9 Patriots 57-53 in a Division IV regional semifinal at Massillon Perry High School on Thursday.

“That is the best basketball team we have played all year,” Buckeye Central coach Greg Moore said. “They get after you, defensively. They have a lot of threats and they have been here. Coach (Lisa Stopp) does a good job over there and they have a lot to look forward to.”

With the win, the Bucks improve to 25-1 and will meet Dalton (22-4) back at Perry on Saturday for the regional championship. Tip for that game is set for 7:30 p.m.

“It feels awesome,” senior point guard Jenna Karl said. “The experience and the atmosphere tonight was something that we will remember forever.”

Buckeye Central led wire to wire and only committed nine turnovers against a full-court pressure that seemingly never wore out the Bucks.

“Our goal was to pressure them,” said Stopp, who was happy to just be coaching in this game less than 12 months removed from open-heart surgery. “I thought we would get more points off of the turnovers. I thought Buckeye Central did a tremendous job handling what we gave them.”

Lauren Harris’ layup with 2:47 left cut the Buckeye Central lead to 47-45. On the other end, Courtney Pifher, who battled double- and triple-teams all night, stepped back and drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner.

The Patriots then committed one of their 13 turnovers on the other end and Taylor Ratliff made two free throws for the Bucks. After Riley Stopp split two free throws for Cornerstone, Karl was fouled and made two free throws — giving Buckeye Central its biggest lead of the night at 54-46 with 1:14 left.

But the Patriots had one more push in them.

After a timeout, Michaela Cloonan scored and then Emily Stump split two free throws for the Bucks. Harris drilled a triple to get Cornerstone within 55-51. Karl split two free throws on the other end, but the Patriots could not score.

Buckeye Central missed two free throws and Kailey Tyna scored and was fouled with 12.3 seconds left. She missed the free throw and Stump grabbed the rebound. She also split two free throws and Cornerstone missed three shots as time expired, giving the Bucks the win.

“For us to score (57) points on a defensive-minded team … we had great contributions from everybody,” Moore said.

Buckeye Central jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead less than two minutes into the game. Cornerstone scored the next four points, but two consecutive buckets from Lexi Evak pushed the lead to 11-6 and a 3 later from Pifher extended the lead to six points. The Bucks led 16-13 after eight minutes.

“I felt like we started flat and our whole goal was to come out and set the tempo,” Stopp said. “I do not think we set it often, but we certainly did not set it at the beginning of the game.”

A three-point play from Elizabeth Heydinger gave the Bucks a six-point lead in the second quarter, but Cornerstone responded with an 8-2 run to tie the game at 21. Stump scored and was fouled. She missed the free throw, but Pifher grabbed the offensive rebound and scored.

“(Stump) played very good and she played within herself,” Moore said. “She made some baskets when she needed to and she did a good job defensively. She does not care if she scores, as long as we win.”

Stump connected on two free throws for a 27-21 lead, but the Patriots scored the final five points of the quarter over the final 2:17 to get within 27-26 at halftime.

Back-to-back scores in the first 90 seconds from Pifher opened the lead back to five points, but Cornerstone scored seven of the next nine points to forge a 33-all tie. A 3 from Ratliff and two free throws from Pifher pushed the Buckeye Central lead to 40-35, but a jumper from Michaela Cloonan cut the margin to 42-39 after three quarters.

“They wore Jenna out a bit, but she persevered,” Moore said. “Lexi Evak really came out and gave us that jumpstart we needed at the beginning of the game. She is very capable of that.”

A floater from Kyleigh Brown opened the fourth quarter scoring for Buckeye Central. The lead was still five points later when Harris hit a 3 off a Cornerstone offensive rebound, but Evak scored for a 47-43 lead with 3:30 left.

“We knew we wanted to spread them out a bit,” Moore said. “They did a good job of taking us out of our sets. They were hedging hard on some of the screens and they were trapping people. We did move the ball pretty well.”

Harris led the Patriots with 15 points while Michaela Cloonan had 13 points and seven rebounds. Madison Cloonan added 10 points and nine rebounds for Cornerstone, who out-rebounded Buckeye Central 34-28.

Pifher tallied 17 points and five rebounds while Karl had 12 points and seven rebounds. Evak finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

“I am proud of these kids,” Moore said. “A lot of people did not give them a snowball’s chance of being here, but here we are, and we are one game away from the promised land.”

Buckeye Central will get just one day of practice and less than 48 hours to prepare for Dalton, who topped Lisbon David Anderson in the other semifinal 44-30.

“We just got to get their legs back tomorrow and take it lightly,” Moore said. “We will come back Saturday and see what we can do.”