BROOKFIELD - Entering Saturday's Division III sectional final against Liberty, the Brookfield Warriors had a long time to think about their previous game.
The Warriors lost their regular-season finale to Mathews eight days beforehand, giving them plenty of motivation to rebound against their next opponent. One player in particular - Danielle DiCristofaro - seemed especially prepared to bounce back against the Leopards, scoring seven of Brookfield's first nine points in a 56-37 win in which the Warriors never trailed.
The senior point guard finished with a game-high 17 points.
"After our last game, we were all kind of anxious to get going," Brookfield coach Shawn Hammond said. "We did not play very well (against Mathews), and it starts with them (the guards). When (DiCristofaro) gets going, she can make consecutive shots, which is good, and then she did a little bit of everything - she wasn't just staying at the 3-point line. She got some followup shots, rebound-putbacks, and that gets us going."
Following a DiCristofaro 3-pointer at the 3:54 mark in the first quarter, Brookfield (16-7) took a seven-point lead, which proved to be the closest the Leopards (12-10) ever got.
Both teams used 2-3 zones on defense, but Brookfield had few problems generating offense. They only connected on two shots from beyond the arc, but the Warriors managed to score in the paint - be it from grabbing offensive rebounds (Brookfield had 11 in the game) and scoring on the putback, by hitting mid-range jumpers or by finding the holes in the zone.
"We started hitting outside shots, and then they started moving (out) and left the post wide open," DiCristofaro said. "We just started throwing it in."
Brookfield pushed the lead out to 18 points late in the third quarter before Liberty attempted something to change the flow of the game, deploying full-court and half-court traps.
It worked at first, as the Warriors committed three turnovers in the final 2 minutes of the quarter, but the Warriors turned that pressure against the Leopards after that, going on some fast-breaks. This forced the Leopards to give up either an easy basket or foul Brookfield, and forward Ashley Kirila took advantage of this, recording nine of her 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"You get used to walking the ball up (the court) and then they start pressuring you - you just got to adjust," Hammond said. "We didn't at first. Then we started to get the ball reversed and in the middle. We were able to free up some people down (the court). Our posts at the back end of it really did a nice job of catching and just turning with other people running the floor."
After the game, Liberty coach Ron DeJulio admitted his team should have switched to the full-court pressure sooner, but he praised Brookfield for slowing down leading scorer Leah Leshnack, who managed just two points in the first quarter and finished with 15.
"They did a great job of taking Leah Leshnack away, and we weren't getting many quality shots," Liberty coach Ron DeJulio said. "If we would have made the easy shots we had in the first half, the game would have probably been even. We missed about three or four nice, easy layups which were crucial."
Now, Brookfield moves on to face South Range in the district semifinal at Struthers High School next Thursday. DiCristofaro, who has her sights set on advancing even further in the tournament, said the team has some work to do to prepare for the second-seeded Raiders.
"Practicing our butts off and going all the way," DiCristofaro said of the team's agenda.