BY JIM THOMAS
Repository sports writer
BERLIN The Hoover Vikings found out they could play with the nation’s best Monday in their second day at the Classic in the Country.
Unfortunately, they didn’t realize it until the second half.
Ranked sixth by MaxPreps and ninth by USA Today, Regis Jesuit of Colorado came out and held a bewildered Vikings offense to 10 first-half points. Hoover regrouped and played Colorado’s defending state champs and current top-ranked team to within two points in the second half as the Raiders hung tough for the 52-38 triumph.
“I think we came out very tentative in the first half,” Hoover coach Abbey Allerding said. “But I will say our girls went out and battled in the second half.
“You can’t have a 14-point deficit, though, and play even with them.”
Hoover came in averaging nearly 70 points a game. Regis came into the tournament allowing 31.8 a game.
Regis Jesuit’s quick double-teams and 2-3 zone defense were the difference, especially early on. The Raiders bodied up well, contested shots, stole passes. In the end, they allowed only three Vikings — Marquia Turner (13 points), Julie Worley (13) and Kelsey Lensman (12) — to score.
Hoover didn’t get its first bucket until 30 seconds were left in the first quarter. Turner’s 3-pointer gave her six points as Hoover closed the first quarter down only 13-7. A Turner layup quickly put the Vikings within four at 13-9.
Then the bottom fell out for North Canton.
It turned the ball over seven times in its last 11 possessions of the half, failing to score a basket the final 6:41 as Regis took a 24-10 lead into intermission, thanks to its defense and four 3-pointers, two by Jessica Lewis.
Regis Jesuit has six girls with Division I college scholarship offers, including 6-4 Diani Akigbogun (Texas) and 5-11 Justine Hall (Purdue), as well as a seventh to play in Division II.
Lewis is not one of them. All the 5-9 junior guard did was finish with a game-high 14 points, one more than Hall, and her output wasn’t the more most impressive part of her game.
Lewis’ ballhanding, her on-ball defense, the five rebounds and her composure stood out more than a 4-for-5 floor shooting effort. Lewis took just two shots in the first half, both 3-pointers, and made them both.
“We’ve seen them before, we knew they were five solid anytime they have their kids on the court,” Allerding said. “(Lewis) is a good player, very consistent. She controlled the ball for them.”
A Lewis jumper and a hoop by Hall early in the third gave Regis its biggest lead at 29-10. Then the Vikings played their game.
Lensman nailed two 3s sandwiched around her own stickback bucket. Worley, held scoreless the first half, scored six points and pulled down four rebounds. Turner hit a 3-pointer, and then was going the other way with a Regis turnover with the chance to get the deficit under 10 before her buzzer-beater was blocked.
Still, Hoover trailed just 38-27.
“We’ve been exposed to them somewhat,” said Lensman, talking about seeing Regis over the summer and national-caliber teams at the Delaware Christmas tournament. “We just have to go into every game thinking not how tall or good they are, but just play hard.”
A Worley stickback and bucket and a Lensman layup in transition got Hoover as close as 40-33. Regis, though, clamped down on defense and held the Vikings without a basket the final five minutes, and Lewis stepped up again.
She made four straight free throws midway through the fourth quarter, the latter pair putting Regis up 47-38 with 3:20 left. Lewis’ pass on the baseline to Hall resulted in a reverse layup and three-point play to make it 50-38 at the 2:50 mark and Hoover never scored again.
It was Hoover’s second loss in 16 games, both to out-of-state defending state champions. Now they go to McKinley on Wednesday in the only Federal League game left that matters.
“I would say McKinley is a very good team,” said Allerding. “It’s always a rivalry. They’re going to bring their best and we’re going to try to do the same.”