MARION — As the old axiom goes, good defense wins championships, and it put the Mason County Eastern girls basketball team one step closer to vying for a district title Monday night.

Keeping the Big Rapids Crossroads offense bottled up the entire game, the Cardinals cruised to a 37-18 victory in the first round of the MHSAA Division 4 district at Marion.

Corrina Hernandez knocked down a 3-point shot and scored five points, while Skylar Harry tallied six in the first quarter to lead the Cardinals to a 9-3 advantage after one.

Hilary Howe shot 5 of 6 at the free throw line in the second quarter as the Cardinals edged the Cougars, 10-8 and entered the half with a 19-11 lead.

But the Cardinals broke the game open in the third, outscoring the Cougars, 11-2 to mount a 30-13 advantage going into the fourth period. The Cardinals had a 7-5 edge in the final eight minutes.

“Girls played well, and played good, quality defense,” Eastern coach Jake Smith said. “They moved around well, and helped out. We took the ball to the hole a little bit in the first half, drew some fouls.

“We went to the line and shot pretty well. We came out in the second half with good, strong defense and held them scoreless for six and a half minutes, I think, in the third and they scored only two points.”

Smith cleared his bench in the fourth quarter to give his starters a little rest, as well as give the younger players some playing time.

Howe finished 7 of 10 at the free throw line and scored a game-high 13 points to lead Eastern. Hernandez added nine, while Harry contributed seven. The Cardinals shot 10 of 22 at the charity stripe overall.

Crossroads was led in scoring by Jackie Cole and Amelia Thompson who each had six points.

“Overall, for a team that we already played twice this year, they were not quite as quick as we were tonight,” said Smith. “I think that was a key defensively.”

The Cardinals improved to 10-10 on the season and moved on to the district’s second round against state ranked McBain Christian on Wednesday night.