Casey Santoro scores 29, Lady Red gets by Cleveland St. Joseph

CLEVELAND — It is best to not poke the bear. You might get bit.

Casey Santoro fell to the floor after a layup in the first quarter and stayed down momentarily.

When she arose, the 5-foot-4 aggressive senior was all business.

Santoro erupted for 29 points as Division II No. 3 Bellevue slugged past Cleveland St. Joseph, 56-39, in non-league play Wednesday.

“Sometimes, Casey scores big and people do not know it,” Bellevue coach Kory Santoro said. “She picks at you and she is a great point guard. She can control the game and I am glad she is on our side.”

Santoro had eight points in the first quarter, but added 10 more in the second as the Lady Red improved to 14-0 overall. She now sits at 1,922 career points.

“We knew the offense runs through her,” SJA coach A.J. Hyland said. “She is tremendous and she is smart with the basketball. She drives and dishes really well. We wanted to force the ball into somebody else’s hands.”

Casey Santoro (2), Cory Santoro, and Kami Hay each connected on 3-pointers as Bellevue raced to a 12-3 lead less than four minutes in. That quickly pulled the Jaguars (7-6) out of their zone defenses.

“We had film on St. Joseph and we knew they were playing a lot of 2-2-1 and 2-3 zone,” coach Santoro said. “We saw mostly man tonight, but we felt like we were a little quicker than they were.”

The driving layup in which Casey Santoro hit the deck gave the Lady Red a 14-5 lead with 55 seconds left in the first quarter. After Ava Haddad ended the quarter with a bucket, Casey Santoro opened the second quarter with her third triple of the night.

“I thought we played good defense,” coach Santoro said. “It was not just one player — it was the whole team. I thought everybody followed the gameplan. They were in the right spots and I felt like a lot girls made a lot of things happen.”

Cory Santoro connected on a 3 to push Bellevue ahead, 23-11 and later, back-to-back buckets by Casey Santoro made it 32-18. All told, the Lady Red hit on 7 of 15 triples in the first, including a 4 of 5 start.

“We did not do as good a job as we could have on Bellevue’s shooters,” Hyland said. “We were helping, but they were doing a good job of kicking and finding open shooters.”

Bellevue led, 32-20 at halftime, but a steal and score by Casey Santoro increased the lead. The margin was still 14 points later when SJA put together its best back-to-back sequence.

A 3-point play by Gab Schafer was followed by a score from Bridget Chambers. That sliced the Lady Red lead under double digits for the first time since midway through the second quarter. But, Cory Santoro scored and Casey Santoro hit two free throws to help Bellevue to a 40-28 lead after three.

“They are a good team and they play in a good league,” coach Santoro said. “We knew we had to come down here and play well. I am proud of our team. It is tough to win on the road, especially against a good team.”

A big three-point play by Emma Bollinger in the fourth quarter gave the Lady Red a 45-32 advantage. Hay followed with a left-handed hook shot over the 6-foot Haddad. Hay did not play basketball last season, but has quickly become a solid starter for Bellevue.

“Kami is a girl that lettered and played a lot her freshman year,” coach Santoro said. “I am glad to have her back. She is a gamer and she has a fire to her. I like that about her and she fits in perfect with the rest of the girls.”

Casey Santoro scored down low for the Lady Red before her steal led to a layup for Casey Santoro.

“In order to be a good team, you have to play the best,” Hyland said. “Kory has had a good program for a long time and I am happy this game was scheduled.”

Haddad paced the Jaguars with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, but coach Santoro thought three of his post players did what they needed to do.

“I thought we did an excellent job on (Haddad), who I was concerned with,” coach Santoro said. “I thought Gabby (Turner), Brynn (Vogel), and Alex (Fiske) defended her pretty well. I felt overall, it was a nice game we played.”

Cory Santoro tossed in 17 points for Bellevue, which is off for more for than a week before facing Vermilion next Thursday.

“I thought for the first time this year, I thought we played pretty composed,” coach Santoro said. “I thought we played how we wanted to play other than a few little things.”