Blue Devils meet the end of the road

Western Reserve’s Dani Vuletich goes up for a shot as Dalton’s Tess Denning comes in for a block. (Salem News/Gary Leininger)

MASSILLON–There are no weak teams when you get to regional tournament games. The Dalton Bulldogs proved how much three years of playing in regionals has helped them as they disposed of the Western Reserve Blue Devils 53-32 Thursday night in a Division IV tournament game at Perry High School.

The Bulldogs have a program with a history of successful basketball as they improve to 22-5 on the season and will play Cornerstone Christian Saturday night in a regional championship. The Blue Devils close the season with an outstanding 22-4 record.

“I told my team that I can’t lie to them about the advantage that they (Dalton) had by being here three straight times,” Blue Devils coach Steve Miller said. “I think that played a significant role. They were hungry.”

The Bulldogs used a hot shooting performance from the perimeter while their stifling defense kept the Blue Devils from getting many open looks at the basket. They also double-teamed the Devils standout center Dani Vuletich to keep her in check.

“They made it difficult on us to score. They put a lot of pressure on us and closed out on our shooters,” Steve Miller explained. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well from the perimeter, but that’s because they got out on us and challenged us quickly. In saying that, they were still able to pretty much double on Dani (Vuletich). We were forcing it and pounding the ball inside the best that we could.”

“We knew rebounding and that Vuletich was going to be a problem for us. We knew we had to make everything she got to be difficult,” Bulldogs coach Katie Miller said.

Vuletich still poured in 17 points while grabbing 10 rebounds in leading the Devils. Olivia Pater added 9 points for the Devils.

“I’ve seen every defense all season. People face guarded me, doubled me, triple teamed me, everything. I’m just used to it so I was expecting them to play me and hang on me,” Vuletich remarked about the physical play of the Bulldogs.”

The Blue Devils battled the Bulldogs in the first quarter as they trailed 11-8 at the end of the first quarter. But things changed quickly for the Devils in the second stanza. The Bulldogs went on a 9-2 run to start the period, holding a 20-11 lead at the 4:10 mark following a three by the Bulldogs Makenna Geiser. The Bulldogs continued to pull away from the Devils as they increased their advantage to 33-19 at the intermission.

“Early on they come out and go six for eight from the three-point line in the first half. I don’t care how good you’re playing if a team is going to go out and shoot that well in the first half, a team like this in the regionals, you’re in trouble,” Steve Miller remarked.

The Devils showed a lot of heart in the second half as they came out of the locker rooms and went on a 7-1 run to close the deficit to 9 at 34-26 with 4:35 left in the third quarter. The Bulldogs responded with a 13-2 run to hold a 47-28 lead with 4:22 remaining in the contest. Both teams substituted freely in the closing minutes as the Bulldogs outscored the Devils 6-4 in the closing minutes.

“Basically we told the girls that you can’t win the game in a minute or two,” Steve Miller said of the halftime pep talk. “It’s a thirty-minute game and right now we’re in a huge hole. We have to just try to cut it under ten (points). We were a little short of that but we played a nice third quarter.”

“Things we needed to tweak and things we needed to work on,” Senior guard Erica DeZee said of the second half push. “Just basically that we are a good team and we belong here. Keep our heads up and go out strong and push each other.”

“We were saying that we need to play hard, we weren’t playing to our best and we knew that,” senior Maddy Owen added.

“We let ourselves get a little too relaxed there,” Katie Miller remarked about the Bulldogs at the start of the second half. “We started to get the offense a little quicker going down the floor and that seemed to help and we got some nice looks.”

“Just how awesome our team was and how we all worked together and always encouraged each other. The team bonding and the team chemistry was always there,” DeZee said about her teammates on the season.

“I felt really good about being a senior because our team was so good together,” Owen added. “I felt proud of my team, every single game I was proud of my team.”

“They (Erica and Maddy) played big roles in our season, but we’re looking to get back in the gym and it will be harder for us next year to get back. We’re going to have a big target on our back,” Vuletich said.

WESTERN RESERVE: 8-11-9-4–32

DALTON: 11-22-6-14–53

WESTERN RESERVE SCORING: Brook Morris 0-1-1, Kennedy Miller 0-0-30, Olivia Pater 4-0-9, Dani Vuletich 6-5-17, Alyssa Serensky 1-0-3, Maddy Owen 0-2-2, Erica DeZee 0-0-0, Morgan Nonithon 0-0-0, Olivia Altiere 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 11, 8-19: 32.

DALTON SCORING: Emma Cannon 5-7-17, Jalyssa Turner 2-1-6, Makenna Geiser 2-0-6, Kelsey Shoup 1-3-6, Camille Beatty 5-0-13, Tess Downing 1-0-2, Ellie Martinez 0-0-0, Brennah Arnold 1-0-3. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 11-14: 53

Three-point goals: Western Reserve 2 (Olivia Pater, Alyssa Serensky), Dalton 8 (Jalyssa Turner, Makenna Geiser 2, Kelsey Shoup, Camille Beatty 3, Brennah Arnold).