TOLEDO – For much of its regular season-finale at Toledo Whitmer, the Fremont Ross girls basketball team held a strong Panthers team in check with a strong defensive effort.
That defense allowed the Lady Giants to stay close throughout the night and when Olivia Baptista drove to the basket for a game-tying layup with 55 seconds to play, Ross found itself in prime position to upset the Panthers.
That’s when the Panthers finally managed to find a crack in Ross’ defense as Khamani Jones answered by retaking the lead with a dagger 3-pointer with 35 seconds to play, sending Whitmer to survive Ross with a 44-39 victory.
“I feel like they didn’t play with any extra weight on their shoulders and they just played,” Ross coach Juan Vela said of the Lady Giants’ final regular season game. “They just played the game and we did a good job tonight, we just had to close out in the last minute, make a basket, close things down and make a play and we didn’t.”
Whitmer built its largest lead of the night late in the third quarter, leading by nine with under two minutes to go. The Lady Giants then closed the period with momentum, as a 3-pointer by Brooklyn Baptista and drives by Mikeaya McLaurin and Olivia Baptista brought Ross back to within two entering the fourth quarter, 32-30. Ross continued its momentum into the fourth quarter when Olivia Baptista opened the period with a 3-pointer, giving Ross its first lead of the night.
While Vela appreciated his players didn’t let emotions of their final game affect their play, Baptista appeared to use the final regular season game of her career as a motivator, as she scored a game-high 20 points.
“I think Olivia plays with a lot of heart every game,” Vela said. “Every game I know what I’m going to get from her, she’s very consistent. We’ve been talking about she needs to take it to the basket even more and I told her that two days ago and here we are in a game and she’s doing exactly what I told her. That’s the kind of player she is.”
Whitmer responded to Baptista’s 3-pointer by retaking a four-point lead with 3:20 to play, but Ross held Whitmer scoreless over the next two-and-a-half minutes with a series of defensive stands and forced turnovers leading to Baptista’s game-tying layup with 55 seconds to go.
“As soon as she tied it up, I’m thinking in my head, ‘We’ve done a great job defensively, we (can) get a good stop and get the ball,’ and I had a couple plays that I felt would work throughout the game but I was saving them for that moment,” Vela said.
But the plays Vela had in mind were moot when, off a Whitmer offensive reboubds, the ball found its way into the hands of Jones, open behind the 3-point line, who drained what proved to be the game-winner.
“(Jones) was wide open off the defensive rebound, and if we get that rebound she doesn’t shoot it. It’s hard to guard off rebounds. She hit a big shot. And that’s why we lost. It hurts.”
In addition to Olivia Baptista’s 20 points, Brooklyn Baptista scored seven and Marissa Overmyer added six. The Lady Giants end the regular season with a 10-12 overall record and a mark of 4-10 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
Ross will open the postseason with a sectional game at Toledo Start against TRAC rival Findlay on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The Lady Giants split their two meetings with the Trojans this season, winning at home by a score of 53-46 and losing at Findlay, 61-47.
Panthers too much for Little Giants
In the nightcap of the varsity doubleheader against the Little Giants for an up-close glimpse of the program they’re trying to become.
Whitmer’s advantages in skill and depth were on full display from the start and never let up as the Associated Press’ No. 8-ranked Panthers cruised to a 79-38 victory over Ross.
“They’ve lost one game, we’ve won three; They’re much better than we are,” Ross coach John Cahill said. “I’m just disappointed in the way we competed. I thought the earlier game we battled, it wasn’t quite the run-away it was tonight but credit goes to them for being a much better team than we are now and I wish them nothing but the bets in the tournament.”
The biggest obstacle standing between Ross as it is now and being a team that is ready to compete with Whitmer and the TRAC other top-level teams is the commitment level it puts in in the offseason, Cahill said.
“It’s been no secrete I didn’t feel like our spring, after I got hired, and summer, it was tough to get buy-in and I think that’s the case across the board in all sports,” Cahill said. “Until we get to the point where winning is important to us, being in the weight room and skill stuff, in whatever sport you’re in, we’re going to get the results we’ve been getting.”
Ross was led in scoring by junior Jaevon Martin, who, over the second half of the season, has continued to show tremendous growth in his game, starting to put skills together with his 6-foot-6 frame.
“The mental part is the hard part for him because there so much learning and he gets frustrated with himself sometimes, but his upside is evident and I thought tonight he was competitive,” Cahill said. “He scored in the post and did some good things. For having never played, you can see the potential is there. Jae is at times his own worst enemy but if he continues to work and believe in himself – he’s never been in the weight room until this year – I think he can really get strong, become more dynamic.”
The Little Giants are home for their final regular season game Thursday as they host Oregon Clay.
Whitmer 44, Fremont Ross 39
FR| 8—9—13—9 39
W| 12—12—8—12 44
FREMONT ROSS (39)
Brooklyn Baptista 7, Olivia Baptista 20, Molly Mies 2, Mikeaya McLauren 2, Jasannah Sabiers 2, Mariss Overmyer 6.
Hopings 7, Jones 8, T. Young 2, Blood 11, Hickey 11, Henkle 5.
Whitmer 79, Fremont Ross 38
FR| 6—9—13—10 38
W| 22—20—22—15 79
FREMONT ROSS (38)
Jabryis Heidelburg 10, Ben Gedeon 3, Ethan Chumley 1, Jaevon Martin 13, Connor Malan 5, Jaquace Richardson 1.
Evans 12, Butler 6, Colbert 23, Hughes 11, Syroka 10, Varnese 3, Boecker 3, Wilburn 4, Purley 4, Howard 3.