By Lisa Byers
Cochranton’s seniors have had their share of disappointment against Conneaut’s ‘Big 3’ — Kristen Baker, Challen Litwiler and Kimmy Litwin — throughout their careers.
But on Thursday night, Madi Bernarding, Kendell Dickson and Kellie Vincent finally had their say. And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Lady Cardinals.
Cochranton clinched at least a share of the Region 3 title with an impressive 69-49 win over the Lady Eagles on senior night at the Bird Cage. The loss in Conneaut’s first-ever in region play and puts it in a precarious position regarding its postseason fate.
“It’s amazing and just gratifying,” said Bernarding, who celebrated senior night with a game-best 26 points. “We’ve always wanted to beat (Conneaut). They are a phenomenal team. To be able to play with them and finally beat them is so rewarding.”
Cochranton’s desire to beat Conneaut started quite a while ago — before the Conneaut Lake, Conneaut Valley and Linesville merger was even talked about. Up until then, those teams had pretty much dominated the Cardinals as Bernarding, Dickson and Vincent continued their way up through the program and eventually to the varsity team.
“After so many years of wanting to beat them … This is the best feeling ever,” Dickson said.
It wasn’t just beating Conneaut, though, that had the entire Cardinals’ team beaming even several minutes after the horn sounded. It was the way they went about delivering that win.
Cochranton had already had a pretty exhausting week going into Thursday’s game.
The Cardinals faced Titusville on Monday in a game both teams thought was at their venue. Cochranton had to quickly pack up, make arrangements for a bus and travel to Titusville for the non-region tilt. The teams played an abbreviated junior varsity contest. The varsity game didn’t begin until after 8 p.m.
On Tuesday, Cochranton played Lakeview. With two games already this week and it being senior night, Cochranton coach Gary Egli was a little concerned about how the Lady Cardinals would come out against Conneaut.
“I was worried about it being senior night and the emotions getting us behind early,” Egli said. “But it was kind of a slow start by both groups, so that kind of helped us a little bit.”
The first quarter ended in a 14-14 tie. At the half, Cochranton led 27-24.
Conneaut tied it up right out of the gate in the second half. Kristen Baker was fouled on a layup and converted the three-point play to tie it up at 27-27. But that’s when the rout began.
With just under three minutes to play in the third quarter, Cochranton had a 10-point lead (39-29). Conneaut did cut the deficit to six at the start of the fourth quarter. But the Lady Cardinals answered with a 7-0 run to go up by 13 (53-40) and made their free throws to put the game out of reach.
“You play 17 games to get to a point where it matters and then you cleaned off the floor,” Conneaut coach Bill Stevenson said. “A lot of things went into that. Sure, I made mistakes. They made mistakes. (Cochranton) forced us to make mistakes.
“Excuses. Excuses. But bottom line, we didn’t score more than they did. We got slapped around a little bit. They were physical. And we didn’t respond to that.”
Conneaut, according to District 10 rules despite leading the standings in Region 3, is not eligible to win the region and is not guaranteed a playoff berth. So the Lady Eagles’ postseason fate, despite owning a 17-3 record, is in the hands of the District 10 committee. In addition to the loss to Class A Cochranton, the Eagles also have losses against Grove City and Warren. Those teams are in fourth place in their respective Class AAA regions.
Cochranton is back in action on Saturday against Youngsville. The Cardinals need a win over the Eagles or Cambridge Springs to lose to Eisenhower to win the Region 3 title outright. In the meantime, though, the Cards are going to celebrate their monumental win.
“It was one of our goals to not let them out of our region without getting at least one loss,” Egli said. “It took us until the last time to get it.”
Bernarding had six field goals, including two 3-pointers, and was 12 of 16 from the free throw line to finish with 26 points. Dickson added 16 points, three blocks and 10 rebounds. Kass Dickson had four blocks. Morghan Egli had 12 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. Abby Clulow had 10 assists.
Baker led the Eagles with 22 points. Litwiler had 15.
Four of Conneaut’s five starters finished the game on the bench having fouled out. Bernarding was the recipient of a good portion of those fouls in the fourth quarter and she was 9 of 10 from the line in the quarter.