ST. CLAIRSVILLE - St. John Central and Conotton Valley didn't play during the regular campaign this season.
They did, however, play in 2011-12 and Lady Irish head coach Bubba Kapral remembered a then lanky freshman, Olivia Bower, doing significant damage for the Lady Rockets.
The long-time Lady Irish head coach is certainly going to remember Bower for an even longer time this season.
ST. JOHN?Central’s Kristen Russell eyes the basket during Saturday night’s Class 1A game.Additional images can be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
The 6-1 swing player and her Lady Rockets' teammates proved to be too much as they seized the Wheeling Hospital-OVAC Class 1A title with a convincing 50-26 victory in Saturday's nightcap inside the Health and Physical Education Center at Ohio University Eastern.
"Give Conotton Valley all of the credit because they kicked our butts," Kapral said. "We didn't do what we needed to do, but having said that, we played against a very good team tonight."
The Lady Rockets, who won their only other OVAC title in 1997, had set the conference title as a goal as their first-year coach Chandra Myers took over and tried to figure out the ins and outs of the OVAC.
"I knew nothing about the OVAC other than it was a bunch of river teams that stretched into West Virginia," Myers admitted. "I still don't know much, but I am learning and I know this meant a lot to these girls and it's great for them that their hard work allowed them to achieve one of their main goals."
Conotton Valley and St. John were in a back-and-forth affair in the first quarter with the game tied at 12 in the wanning seconds of the period. However, Conotton Valley's Chandice Cottis picked off a Lady Irish pass and turned into a layup and from there, the Rockets took off.
"That play hurt, but it wasn't the turning point," Kapral said. "It was just a speed bump, but we didn't play through it as well as we needed to. It was just one mistake."
The Lady Rockets began to pull away when they outscored the Lady Irish, 14-6 in the second quarter.
After scoring nine points in the first period, Bower continued to pile up points. She scored six more and had 15 of her 20 in the first half.
"Kristen (Russell) is a great defender, but Bower really hit some big-time shots," Kapral said. "We didn't help (on her) like we should have, but she's a big-time player and we knew that. She's also got a nice supporting cast around her."
Owning a 28-18 lead at the intermission, the Lady Irish came out in the second half to find seemingly a cover on the basket at their end of the court. St. John didn't record its first of three second-half field goals until there was only 3:02 left to play.
"They imposed their will and played more physical than we did," Kapral said. "We like to go baseline to baseline, but we couldn't get out and run. When you can't score, that just compounds matters worse and it wears on you."
St. John had trouble scoring in the second half because Bower was erasing shots at quite a clip. She swatted eight shots to go along with her scoring and 15 rebounds. All told, the Lady Irish cashed just 10-of-52 from the field for a frigid 19 percent clip.
"I know 'Livy' likes to block shots," Myers said. "She's pretty long and she can do it without fouling, but it still makes me nervous. We're definitely fortunate to have her on our team. She really steps up when we need her to, but she'll be the first to credit her teammates."
The Lady Irish, who had a few players under the weather, failed to have a player reach double figures. Frosh point guard Marissa Rose led the way with seven points. Senior leading scorer Russell and frosh Jessica Alvey each had six.
"We knew Russell was their go-to-player," Myers said. "I didn't have a lot of information to go on, but we knew we had to limit second chance points, not turn the ball over and limit Russell's scoring."
Bower, meanwhile, was complemented in the scoring column by Brynlyn Belknap's 13 points and 11 boards.
Conotton held a 36-22 edge on the boards.
ST. JOHN (26) - Froehlich 1, 1-2 3; Coppa 2, 0-0 4; Sliva 0, 0-0 0; Rose 3, 1-2 7; Santinoceta 0, 0-0 0; Russell 1, 4-6 6; Alvey 3, 0-0 6; Knox 0, 0-0 0; LeMasters 0, 0-0 0; Totals: 10, 6-10 26. CONOTTON VALLEY (50) - Cottis 2, 0-0 4; Bower 8, 4-5 20; Jones 1, 0-0 2; Edie 1, 0-0 2; Belknap 4, 5-8 13; Russell 3, 1-1 7; Wallace 0, 0-0 0; Manbeck 1, 0-0 2; Totals: 20, 10-14 50.
Three-Point Goals: None.
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