SIDNEY — Lehman Catholic’s girls basketball team is still going through growing pains after not having much training in the summer and a truncated preseason.
The pains haven’t been costly in Northwest Central Conference games, including in a showdown with previously undefeated Riverside on Thursday at Schlater Family Gymnasium.
“We’re getting there, but where nowhere near ‘there’ yet,” Lehman coach Craig Hall said. “… We didn’t turn the ball over a lot. We didn’t beat ourselves. But we gave up too many offensive rebounds, and their offensive rebounds is what killed us.”
It was an early-season NWCC showdown between two of the league’s heavyweights. Lehman (3-1, 2-0 NWCC) went undefeated in conference play last year and finished first, while Riverside finished second, with its lone league loss coming to the Cavaliers.
It’s the second game Riverside has played since its season was stopped for a week due to COVID-19 exposure. The Pirates (3-1, 2-1) beat Ridgemont 56-42 on Tuesday in their first game since Nov. 24.
“That made it tough. We’ve only had a couple of practices after being off for about seven or eight days,” Riverside coach Rod Yoder said. “I’m not going to make excuses. There’s times where you’re going to be a little rusty.
“But the kids came out and played hard, and that’s the most important thing. It was just one of those nights where we didn’t get our shots to fall. The shots we missed tonight where ones we’ve been making in other games.”
Riverside has all but two players back from last year’s 13-11 squad, which finished second in the NWCC and won a tournament game for the first time in 10 years.
All the rest of the squad is back. Among the returnees is senior guard Lauryn Sanford, who averaged 13.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game last year.
“She’s a great floor leader and a great leader on and off the court,” Yoder said. “The girls look to her. She gives you everything you ask for.”
Yoder, who is also Riverside’s athletic director, took over as coach for Bryce Hodge, who resigned following last season after school administration approached him and suggested he focus on his duties as the school’s head football coach.
Yoder is also the school’s girls golf coach.
“It’s going great,” Yoder said of his first season. “We’ve got a great group of girls, and I love coaching them. I love coming to practice every day. They give me great effort every day. It’s been very enjoyable coaching this group.”
Lehman led 32-23 early in the fourth quarter but the Pirates scored the next 11 points to take a two-point lead. Sanford scored five of the first seven points during the run while Jade Copas scored the last four points on passes from Sanford.
Copas made a basket in the paint with a little over two minutes left to cap off the run and put Riverside ahead 34-32. After Heidi Toner split a pair of free throws to bring Lehman within 34-33, Sanford drove through two Lehman defenders and made a shot off the glass with 1:32 left to push the lead to three points.
Lehman junior forward Heidi Toner followed on Lehman’s next possession to pull Lehman within one point, and after a Riverside turnover, she hit another shot in the post with just under a minute left to give the Cavaliers a 37-36 lead.
The Cavaliers — which made 1 of their first 10 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter — sealed the game from the foul line in the final minute.
Kiersten Franklin split a pair of free throws with 19.7 seconds left to give Lehman a 38-36 lead. After another Riverside turnover, Toner made a pair of free throws to push the lead to 40-36.
“We hit some key free throws when we had to,” Hall said. “…“Heidi said somebody hit her elbow right before (that foul) and she had no feeling in her arm. I said, ‘That explains how you made both free throws.’”
Anna Cianciolo also added another two foul shots before the final buzzer.
“They just made some plays at the end,” Yoder said. “We turned it over a couple of times there late, and that was pretty much the difference.”
It was the first game Lehman freshman forward Mara O’Leary and freshman guard Taylor Geise played only in the varsity contest after having played in both JV and varsity games before.
O’Leary led Lehman with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Toner and Cianciolo each finished with nine points while Franklin, who transfered from Troy to Lehman, scored eight. Toner had seven rebounds while Cianciolo had five assists and three steals.
Riverside took an early 5-0 lead but Lehman scored the next six points and led 9-7 at the end of the first quarter. The Cavaliers built a 21-18 lead by halftime and used a 9-5 scoring edge in the third to take a 30-23 lead into the fourth quarter.
“What kept us in the game was we didn’t want to give up many catch and shoots. We tried to make them put it on the floor,” Hall said. “Once they found out we weren’t going to give that up, in the second half, they looked to dribble-drive a little more.”
Kirstin Schlumbohm led the Pirates with 12 points, seven of which came in the second quarter. Sanford scored 10 points and Copas finished with six.
“We played with great effort,” Yoder said. “We didn’t shoot well tonight, and that was probably what hurt us most. We’d been shooting better in the early games we played, and I think that was the difference. We had quite a few open looks that we missed.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.