Rather than take a bye in the first round of the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division I Northeast I Region I Ravenna bracket, the Solon Comets girls’ basketball team wanted to play an extra game.
All Coach Trish Kruse would say is that she believed electing to play in the first round aligned with her team’s strategy. The Comets ambushed Willoughby South in the first period and rolled to a 75-16 victory in the sectional semifinals last Saturday afternoon at Solon High School.
“I thought our kids played hard,” the 14th-year coach said. “I thought we were focused. We shared the basketball well and shot the basketball well.”
According to junior guard Mackenzie Blackford, the Comets looked at an additional game as another opportunity.
“I think we just wanted to work on some things and get everything nailed down and figure out how we are going to go in this postseason,” she said. “I always will take an opportunity to play so I am glad we played.”
Following a brief two-game losing streak in the middle of the season, the Comets (18-4, 9-1) won eight of their last nine games, paving the way to clinch outright ownership of the Greater Cleveland Conference banner for the sixth time in seven seasons.
“That was a huge win against Medina on Jan. 19 a couple of weeks ago and then we finished it out against Mentor and Euclid,” Kruse said. “We do not like to share titles. We like to win them on our own.”
Solon’s resurgence also resulted in it being seeded first in the Northeast district, marking the first time since the 2019 postseason the Comets were voted as the first seed in the Northeast district.
The 2019 playoffs marked the eighth consecutive season the Comets would go on to snag a district banner, but Solon has been mired in a three-year drought ever since.
Kruse said her team earned the right to be the first seed in the district.
“It showed their perseverance and how hard they worked throughout the season and fought through adversity,” she said.
Blackford acknowledged that by getting the top seed, it also put the target squarely on Solon’s back.
Electing to play an additional game in the postseason, it also meant one more home game for the Comets.
Having always defended home court well, Solon now owns a 16-game winning streak, the longest home winning streak in Kruse’s coaching career.
The Comets are also now one game away from posting a perfect home record, another potential first for a Kruse-led team in school history.
“It is amazing,” said Blackford. “We just enjoy playing at home. It is always a fun time. We have a great atmosphere here. We are very proud of having never lost at home.”
During the Comets’ rough stretch, their depth was tested because of injuries to junior guard Nia Booker and senior guard Chyanne Hatcher.
Booker’s injury was ruled season-ending but the 5-foot-6 Hatcher returned to action in time to help Solon roll to a GCC banner.
An already perfect ending to the regular season got even sweeter with the return of the Comets’ sixth player.
Kruse said that having Hatcher return has added an extra punch to an already deep Comets’ squad.
“It just gives us more depth in our rotation,” she said. “It gives us more guards to play and gives players an opportunity to rest sometimes during the game where before we did not really have an opportunity to rest those guards.”
The Comets took an aggressive approach in the first period and raced to 10-0 lead, paced by a pair of 3-point shots by junior guard Sophia Lance.
Solon continued dominating and forced 16 Rebels’ turnovers in the first period and shut out Willoughby South by a 30-0 margin.
Everything clicked for the Comets, with 15 of their points coming from long distance with the 5-foot-8 Blackford adding two 3-pointers and one from Hatcher.
“It was really great,” said Blackford. “Sophia hit a bunch of 3-point shots and I was really happy for her and everyone else was hitting. When we move the ball we get good shots and we know we can knock it down when it is in the flow of the game.”
Solon’s defense smothered the Rebels and only allowed three field goal attempts in the first period en route to posting a defensive masterpiece.
“I think we were just getting all of our traps closed,” said Blackford. “It is something we have been working on. We had everyone rotating and everyone just did their job and that is why we were able to turn them over.”
The Rebels finally scored on a 3-point shot from senior forward Emma McCue from the left corner, but the Comets were in complete control and outscored their opponents 27-7 to build a 50-point lead at the half.
Hatcher continued pacing the Comets’ offense by scoring 6 points in the second period to keep Solon firmly in the lead.
The Solon senior guard is not just another body to add to the rotation but provides instant offense off the bench, spelling relief for Solon’s leading scorers Mackenzie and her older sister Morgan.
“It is great,” Mackenzie said. “We love having Chyanne back and just hope we can keep going. She just adds everything in offense, another ball-handler, shooting and defense and getting stops and turning people over and going in transition and it is just great to have her back.”
Solon’s massive lead triggered the running clock in the second half and the Comets cruised to a victory in its postseason opener.
The Comets shot 8-of-25 from the outside and held Willoughby South to only 21% from the floor.
Solon will defend home court one more time when it hosts the 35th seed Lakeside in the OHSAA Division I sectional final at 7 p.m. Thursday.
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