Cornerstone Christian takes care of Bucks in regional semis

MASSILON — It was the same venue and the same round of the tournament.

It was even the same opponent, but was absolutely not the same result.

After slipping by Cornerstone Christian Academy last year en route to a regional championship, Buckeye Central again met the Patriots.

This time, Cornerstone Christian controlled the game almost from the very beginning, topping the Bucks 49-32 Thursday in a Division IV regional semifinal at Massillon Perry High School.

“Credit to them for doing what they do,” Buckeye Central coach Abram Kaple said. “They have done it all year. That is the first time we have seen that type of pressure all year.”

Buckeye Central finished 22-4. The 32 points is a season-low for the Bucks.

“We missed some shooters in transition a couple times,” Kaple said. “We did not take some shots that I would have liked for us to take. When you play against this defense, your looks are not as clean as what they are back home.”

Buckeye Central topped the Patriots 57-53 in last year’s same regional semifinal. CCA coach Lisa Stopp admitted there was a bit of revenge of her team’s mind.

“I have Buckeye Central’s scouting report hanging in my office from last year,” Stopp said. “We felt like we had a lot of distractions at this time last year.”

Taylor Ratliff recorded a steal and score to open the game’s scoring, but that was the Bucks’ only lead. Riley Stopp hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Patriots (22-4). Later, a 3 from Ratliff got the Bucks within 9-7, but the suffocating defense of CCA soon took over.

The Patriots held Buckeye Central scoreless over the next 6:18, while scoring 13 straight points for a 22-7 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter.

“Their ball pressure was going to be the thing,” Kaple said. “They can flat out guard you. When that happens, it is hard for us get to get into our sets and do things.”

The Bucks responded with their best stretch of play of the night from there. Claudia Pifher hit a triple before consecutive buckets from Ratliff. Courtney Pifher then registered a three-point play — her only points of the half — to get Buckeye Central within 24-17 with 1:33 left in the second quarter.

But, the Patriots stole a bit of momentum back when Madison Cloonan hit two free throws and Kailey Tyna scored. That gave CCA a 28-19 lead at halftime.

“In the first half, we feel like a couple offensive rebounds — we had good box-outs,” Kaple said. “It felt like we did not go get it, or the ball bounced off one hand and it ended up in their hands. That is not an excuse, but some things are not meant to be.”

The Patriots opened the third quarter with scores from Stopp and Tyna to extend the lead back to double digits. The lead never dipped below the 10-point margin the rest of the game.

“They did a good job defensively,” Kaple said. “They kept rotating defenders on Courtney and making things difficult for her. It is a regional game and there were some questionable no-calls, in my opinion.”

A 3-pointer from Lauren Harris gave the Patriots a 37-22 lead. Courtney Pifher then added a second three-point play for the Bucks, but Tyna scored twice in the final 35 seconds for CCA, giving the Patriots a 41-25 lead after three quarters.

The offense for Buckeye Central continued to sputter early in the fourth quarter. The Bucks went another 5:12 without scoring as the Patriots opened a 45-25 lead before Courtney Pifher scored with 3:32 left in the game.

“Buckeye Central is a formidable team,” coach Stopp said. “We had then scouted. I thought it was going to be an evenly matched game. I think our defense and strength of schedule really made the difference.”

Buckeye Central played without Elizabeth Heydinger, who is typically the first girl off the bench for the Bucks.

“Elizabeth is key,” Kaple said. “We are not very deep enough to begin with. Elizabeth is one of our more athletic girls and to not have her due to sickness stunk for us.”

Ratliff led the Bucks with 12 points and six rebounds while Courtney Pifher scored eight points.

“Taylor had a big game for us offensively,” Kaple said. “We just tried to get her in ball-screen situations and she made plays. She made shots. That is what we needed at the offensive end. We just did not have enough of them throughout the entire night.”

Buckeye Central says goodbye to three seniors: Courtney Pifher, Heydinger and Lexi Biglin.

“I told the girls the other day in practice that we were one of 16 Division IV schools that had practice,” Kaple said. “There are teams that do not win sectionals (and) certainly do not win three district championships in a row. We have kind of gotten accustomed to it. It is awesome to have that.”

Tyna paced Cornerstone Christian with 14 points. Stopp added 12 points for the Patriots, who out-rebounded Buckeye Central 26-21.