MORRISTOWN - Just when it looked like things were going to slip away from Toronto on Saturday afternoon, a trio of Red Knights came up with some big plays down the stretch.
Malaysia Harrison, Josey Jones and Lexie Berger were clutch in the final 2 minutes as the Red Knights held off St. John, 54-51, in an Ohio Division IV girls' basketball sectional opener inside ''The Hangar'' at Union Local High School.
The Red Knights (12-10) return to U.L. on Thursday where they will face Rosecrans at 6 p.m. in a sectional final. The Bishops topped Newcomerstown in Saturday's second contest.
St. John’s Marissa Rose (21) drives past Toronto’s Malaysia Harrison (5) during Saturday’s Matinee.
''That was our main goal, to get out of the first round of sectionals,'' Toronto head coach Mallory Blanton said ''It's been a while.''
Nearly a decade to be exact.
The Red Knights almost let a 19-point lead slip away against a St. John team they beat twice during the regular season.
''Give Toronto credit,'' Irish head coach Bubba Kapral said ''They played well early then they weathered the storm. You can do that when you have Lexi Berger with the ball in her hands.''
Berger, who finished with 13 points, made 5 of 7 free throws down the stretch to help secure the victory.
Two free throws by Marissa Rose, who led all scorers with 29 points, brought St. John (9-13) to within one, 45-44, with 2:47 remaining in the game.
Berger responded with a layup 20 seconds later giving Toronto a 47-44 advantage. Harrison stole the inbounds pass and missed a shot. Teammate Lindsay Bodnar grabbed the rebound and also missed, but was fouled by Rose.
Bodnar, who paced the Red Knights with 19 points, went to the line for a 1-and-1. She missed the first shot and St. John's Jessica Alvey grabbed the rebound. But Jones quickly snatched the ball from Alvey's hands and dropped in a layup giving the Red Knights a 49-44 lead.
''We take pride in our defense and feed off that defense,'' Blanton said. ''That's how we get going. When we got to the free throw line at the end, that helped, too.''
Berger scored Toronto's final five points - all from the line. The first two came with 51.5 seconds left, giving the Red Knights a 51-44 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
St. John outscored Toronto 38-22 in the second half, but it wasn't enough to overcome 32-13 halftime lead. That included a 19-5 advantage in the second period.
''We missed too many shots early on,'' Kapral said. ''We missed 12 free throws in the (first) half.
''We dug ourselves a hole. But in the second half, we played with a little more passion, a little more energy. In the first half, you couldn't miss more easy shots than we did.''
St. John finished 12 of 28 from the charity stripe. Toronto was 15-for-23.
St. John started the second half on a 15-3 run and climbed to with 35-28 near the 3-minute mark. Rose poured in 10 points during the surge, with Alvey netting five of her 12 points.
Lindsey Froehlich added 10 points for the Irish.
Ohio Division IV Sectional
(at Union Local H.S.)
Toronto 54, St. John 51
T - Harrison 3 0-0 6; Berger 2 4-19 13; Winstel 0 0-0 0; Jones 2 1-2 5; Robinson 0 0-0 0; Bauman 2 5-6 9; Roberts 0 0-0 0; Bodnar 8 0-1 19; Spadafora 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 15-23 54.
S - Froehlich 3 3-9 10; Porter 0 0-2 0; Steinbak-Olsen 0 0-0 0; Rose 10 8-10 29; Santinoceto 0 0-2 0; LeMasters 0 0-2 0; Alvey 5 1-3 12. Totals 18 12-28 51.
3-Point Goals: Bodnar 3; Froehlich, Rose, Alvey.
Toronto13 19 8 14 - 54
St. John8 5 19 19 - 51