CORTLAND — Last season, the Garfield girls basketball team raised the district trophy on its home floor.
It wasn’t on their home floor this time, but the G-Men got to raise the district trophy in back-to-back years after beating Champion 68-51 Saturday afternoon at Lakeview High School.
Champion held control over a large part of the first quarter, but Garfield quickly got hot and erased its early deficit to take a 19-17 lead after the first.
From that point on, it was all about the defense. In the second frame, Garfield surrendered only three points, coming from a lone Lorinda Dodrill 3-pointer.
“We talked pregame that if we do single digit quarters, we’ve got a good chance defensively,” Garfield coach Aaron Gilbert said. “In the first quarter we gave up 17, in the second quarter we gave up three. Then in the third quarter we gave double digits and I think in the fourth quarter we gave up single again.
“They wanted to play a certain defense and I’m like, “If that’s what you want to play, and that’s what we got to do. They were locked in.”
The G-Men were led by Jenna Smith, who had 19 points. Madeline Shirkey had 13, Sarah Seaman had 12 and Sydney Seaman tacked on 11.
Champion (18-6) was paced by senior Ava Howell, who scored 22 points in her final game. The Golden Flashes graduate three seniors, Howell, Dodrill and Mady Jones.
They had a unique role this year as there were no juniors on the roster. Just them, and a bunch of freshmen and sophomores.
“They were like little mentors,” Champion coach Michael Cole said. “When you’ve got three seniors and then you’ve got all these younger kids, it could go one of two ways, but they embraced those kids. We had great team chemistry and a lot of that comes from the seniors being able to accept them.
“They kind of showed them the way. Then, the improvement for my underclassmen throughout the year was just amazing and without them, it wouldn’t have happened.”
As he walked toward the bench after accepting his district championship medal, Gilbert hit the “griddy”, a dance made popular on social media by Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, much to the delight of his players.
“I don’t really care how I embarrassed myself,” he said. “The girls are like ‘You’re doing it’ and I go, ‘You held up your end of the bargain by winning, I’ll hold up my end of the bargain by doing the dance and making a fool of myself.”
Garfield dances into the regional stage at Cuyahoga Falls, Gilbert’s favorite court in Northeast Ohio, to take on Warrensville Heights.
Both teams reached the regional last year, but were eliminated in the semifinals by their respective opponents.
“I really want them to experience (regionals),” Gilbert said. “Last year with the COVID year, it just was different. The games are on two different days, the bottom bleachers weren’t pushed out, everybody was up high so it really didn’t feel the same. Now we get to go back and feel what that place is like. I mean it’s my favorite gym in Northeast Ohio, I love that gym. Now they’re in the second game.
“They’re gonna be able to get a little bit of energy from the first game feeling the atmosphere. Tournament time is fast, it’s loud, it’s physical. … You just never want it to end and when it ends, it ends with a thud so, live for another week and let’s see what happens.”