ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Conotton Valley claimed the OVAC Class 1 championship on Saturday night, besting St. John, 50-26..
The two teams played last season and Irish coach Bubba Kapral remembered a then lanky freshman, Olivia Bower, doing significant damage for the Rockets.
The long-time coach is certainly going to remember Bower for an even longer time this season. The 6-foot-1 swing player and her Rockets' teammates proved to be too much as they seized the Class 1A title inside the Health and Physical Education Center at Ohio University Eastern.
"Give Conotton Valley all of the credit because they kicked our butts," Kapral said. "We didn't do what we needed to do, but having said that, we played against a very good team."
The Rockets, who won their only other OVAC title in 1997, had set the conference title as a goal as their first-year coach Chandra Myers took over and tried to figure out the ins and outs of the OVAC.
"I knew nothing about the OVAC other than it was a bunch of river teams that stretched into West Virginia," Myers admitted. "I still don't know much, but I am learning and I know this meant a lot to these girls and it's great for them that their hard work allowed them to achieve one of their main goals."
Conotton Valley and St. John were in a back-and-forth affair in the first with the game tied at 12-12 in the wanning seconds of the quarter. However, Conotton Valley's Chandice Cottis picked off a Irish pass and turned into a layup and from there, the Rockets took off.
"That play hurt, but it wasn't the turning point," Kapral said. "It was just a speed bump, but we didn't play through it as well as we needed to. It was just one mistake."
The Rockets began to pull away when they outscored the Irish, 14-6, in the second quarter.
After scoring nine points in the first period, Bower continued to pile up points. She scored six more and had 15 of her 20 in the first half.
"Kristen (Russell) is a great defender, but Bower really hit some big-time shots," Kapral said. "We didn't help (on her) like we should have, but she's a big-time player and we knew that. She's also got a nice supporting cast around her."
Owning a 28-18 lead at halftime, the Irish came out in the second half to find seemingly a cover on the basket at their end of the court. St. John didn't record its first of three second-half field goals until there was only 3:02 left to play.
"They imposed their will and played more physical than we did," Kapral said. "We like to go baseline to baseline, but we couldn't get out and run. When you can't score that just compounds matters worse and it wears on you."
The Irish, who had a few players under the weather, failed to have a player reach double figures. Frosh point guard Marissa Rose led the way with seven points.