Blackjack: Clippers remain undefeated

Columbinana's Kennedy Fullum (15) shoots around Leetonia's Elizabeth Mills (22) and Anna Buffone (10) on Thursday. (Salem News/Patti Schaeffer)

COLUMBIANA — When the Columbiana girls basketball team embarked on this season, its goal was to take home a league title. In the process of chasing that goal, the Clippers didn’t think they’d also be on the verge of a perfect regular season.

They moved one step closer with a 48-27 victory over Leetonia Thursday at Columbiana High School.

“We never had a goal of being undefeated; we just wanted to win the league,” Columbiana coach Ron Moschella said. “I don’t think they thought they’d get to this point. I’m pretty proud of them and how much they’ve dedicated themselves to each other.”

Columbiana — which already clinched the outright conference title Monday at Lisbon — improves to 21-0 overall and closes the Inter-Tri County League White Division slate with an 8-0 record. Leetonia drops to 14-6, 5-3.

“Finishing unbeaten is definitely motivating us,” Columbiana senior guard Mariah Rovnak said. “Usually toward the end of the season, people get tired and you lose motivation, but I haven’t seen it from anybody yet. It’s really exciting.”

Coming off of Monday’s emotionally draining double-overtime win over Lisbon, the Clippers weren’t at their sharpest but still forced 27 Leetonia turnovers and led the entire way. Both teams shot the ball poorly, with Columbiana going 16-for-50 from the floor (including 2-for-17 from three-point range) and Leetonia shooting 10-for-47.

Leetonia hung around the entire first half and closed the gap to 22-16 with 5:14 left in the third. The Clippers, however, closed the frame on a 10-2 run to take control for good. Alexis Cross led the Clippers in scoring with 13 points, while Rovnak scored 11 points and pestered her way to eight steals. Freshman guard Kayla Muslovski added 11 points and five steals.

“Columbiana’s a great basketball team,” Leetonia coach John Hritz said. “They’re quick, they play defense, they double team the ball, and they handle the ball well. We just had too many turnovers and made some bad decisions. I thought we played well on defense and played hard, we just beat ourselves.”

Overall, Moschella thought the Clippers still have plenty of room for improvement on the defensive side, but he was very happy with the job senior Brittany Mook (seven rebounds, three steals) did on Leetonia forward Kristy Eckman. She finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds but didn’t really get going offensively until the fourth quarter.

“I thought Brittany Mook did a spectacular job against Eckman,” Moschella said. “She just played her heart out, and we really froze her (Eckman) out. Then I went zone and that kind of opened things up for her. But when we went man, Brittany was just playing her butt off.

“Overall, though, we have to be better defensively. We’re having problems with missed assignments and we’re having trouble stopping the ball. We need to concentrate on that before we play Mooney Saturday. They’re a good team and its going to be a tough task for us.”

No other Leetonia player besides Eckman scored more than four points. Elizabeth Mills grabbed 11 rebounds. Leetonia outrebounded the Clippers by a solid margin, but could not overcome their turnovers.

“When we beat Lisbon last week we were able to take the air out of the ball and set the tempo. We couldn’t do that tonight,” Hritz said.

After closing the regular season at home against Cardinal Mooney (a possible tournament opponent) Saturday, the Clippers will have two weeks off to prepare for the postseason grind.

“We need to get a little rest and we need to come back like its the first day of practice and start from the very beginning,” Moschella said.

Game notes

¯The Clippers held senior night festivities before the game honoring Rovnak, Taylor Logan, Mook and Danielle Yanssens.

Logan, Mook and Yanssens (who normally come off the bench) were rewarded with spots in the starting lineup and played the whole first quarter. They were also brought in to close things out late in the game.

“The team made tonight so special for us,” Rovnak said. “It was a lot of fun starting with the other seniors.”

¯Moschella said junior starting guard Taylor Hall–who did a little bit of everything for the Clippers–is out for the season with an ACL injury. Hall also missed Monday’s 98-97 double overtime win over Lisbon.

“We absolutely miss her,” Moschella said. “Our chemistry on the court is lacking without her. But I have to say, (freshman) Grace Hammond has come in and helped us a lot. She doesn’t have to score; we just need her to play a lot of defense. She’s done a nice job.”

¯Columbiana won the jayvee game 47-28. Karissa Tringhese had eight points for the Clippers. Anna Buffone had nine points for the Bears.

LEETONIA:        8-3-7-9–27

COLUMBIANA: 13-7-12-16–48

LEETONIA SCORING: Anna Buffone 0-0-0, Sydney Mesmer 1-0-2, Kayla Jackson 0-1-1, Kylie Tullis 0-0-0, Elizabeth Mills 0-2-2, Sabrina Schneider 2-0-4, Ari Russell 0-1-1, Tori Norman 1-1-3, Kristy Eckman 5-4-14. TEAM TOTALS: 11, 7-16: 27.

COLUMBIANA SCORING: Kayla Muslovski 5-1-11, Tessa Liggett 0-0-0, Grace Hammond 0-0-0, Taylor Logan 1-0-2,  Mariah Rovnak 3-5-11, Kennedy Fullum 1-4-6, Alexis Cross 4-3-13, Danielle Yanssens 2-0-4, Brittany Mook 0-1-1. TEAM TOTALS: 16, 9-28: 48.

Three-point goals: Columbiana 2 (Cross).