By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
Mike Smith is still looking for answers, although the list of objectives has changed in part. Now, after absorbing a 69-43 drubbing at the hands of North, the Premier Athletic Conference title is no longer a very realistic possibility.
The Madison girls’ loss to the host Rangers on Saturday night was their fifth defeat in seven games. With the Blue Streaks at 7-3 in the league, Geneva at 8-1 and all others having three or more losses, and with the Eagles’ only PAC games remaining against South, Lakeside and Riverside, it would take a very unexpected turn of events for Geneva not to win the conference title outright.
With that being true, Madison (11-6 overall) needs to focus on the rest of the remaining regular-season slate, on maximizing its standing in the league and for preparing for the Division I tournament.
“We’re mentally beat up right now and physically beat up,” Smith, Madison’s coach, said. “And I think it was a game of confidence. They came out and played with all the confidence in the world. They had something to play for: We beat them the first time (56-43 on Dec. 15). We’re banged up; our leading scorer (Taylor Bland) is out, and three or four of our other girls are playing injured. It didn’t help our mental thing.”
After leading 27-18 at halftime, the Rangers (11-6, 6-4), who are close to a school record in 3-point field goals, canned nine of their 11 trifectas after the intermission. Lynsey Englebrecht nailed five treys among her 24 points, and added nine rebounds and four steals. Lexi Balausky had 14 points, four assists and four blocked shots and Steph Chlad eight points, 11 boards and seven assists.
“We didn’t come out ready to play.” Smith said. “We shot (69) times (hitting 16). We just didn’t make shots and they did.”
North was 26-of-56 for 46.4 percent, including the 11 triples.
“We know they’re going to shoot 3’s,” Smith said. “They shoot more 3’s than any team that I know of.”
“Obviously they’re a different team without Taylor,” North coach Paul Force said. “They still have some athleticism and some scoring ability. I thought our girls did a nice job defensively of keying in on their number one, their number two and their number three scoring options, and making the other girls take shots.”
Nine-straight points extended a 9-7 edge to 18-7 early in the second quarter. North pushed to 27-14 before Julie Bruening (8 points, 13 rebounds), who took Bland’s place in the starting lineup, scored two baskets for the 27-18 count.
The Rangers ended the third period with a 12-2 surge to stretch a 36-26 advantage to 48-28. Then they opened the fourth frame with five consecutive points, making it 12 overall and a 53-28 bulge. Moments later, seven more unanswered points made it 60-31.
“The first half we started out a little bit slow as far as shooting the basketball,” Force said. “I felt like we didn’t play a great half and we were still up nine points.
“The ball movement in the second half was pretty good; our spacing was good. We found the open person and the threes started going in.”
Dana Appelfeller led the Blue Streaks with nine points. Abbie Trivisonno added eight and also grabbed eight boards, while Julie Gavorski stole the ball five times and Melanie Primer blocked two shots.
One play that Force thought was exemplary of his team’s hustle that he related had been absent in the prior meeting between the two teams came very early in the second half when Trivisonno stole the ball and appeared headed for an easy layup. Chlad chased her down and got a hand on the ball from behind as Trivisonno was going up, causing the ball to go awry.
“Madison played hard; they’re physical,” Force said. “They played pretty darn good defense. But when we find the open person and when shots are going in, it’s difficult to defend that many players that can shoot the basketball.”
Mackenzy Schaefer had a nine-point night for North.
“We’ve got to get back to work,” Smith said. “They played good D, but it wasn’t great D. We just didn’t shoot the ball well. They shot the ball really well.”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.