Defense saved the game for the Tigers down the stretch.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HOWLAND -- Monday's Howland-Warren JFK girls high school basketball game came down to one play in the waning seconds at the Tigers' court.
With Howland clinging to a 33-32 lead and JFK in possession of the ball, Kristina Ferenac foiled Samantha Thomas' drive to the hoop and prevented her from getting off a shot.
Marianne Krezeczowski then canned two foul shots with four seconds left to ensure the Tigers' 35-32 win, but only after Kristy Krezeczowski intercepted the Eagles' long, last-ditch pass down then court near the buzzer.
"Ferenac made a big play taking the ball out of Thomas' hands with 10 seconds left, and got it to [Darcy] Quinlan real quick and called time-out," Howland coach John Diehl said.
"Defense saved us all season," Diehl said. "They [JFK] only had 13 first-half points."
Third option: JFK coach Denise Smith, whose Eagles rallied from a 24-13 deficit early in the third quarter to pull within 33-32 on Jen Burin's basket with 1:45 remaining, said that Thomas' down-the-middle drive actually was the team's third option.
"We had the play set up earlier for Sarah McNeil, but Howland stopped her on the baseline," Smith said. "She [McNeil] was going to drive to the hoop.
"She passed [the ball] out to Krystal [Naples] and Krystal [passed] to Samantha, Smith said. "We went with whatever was open, and that [play] opened up the middle."
Marianne Krececzowski finished with 10 points and Ferenac added eight as Howland [17-2] will take momentum into its Metro Athletic Conference finale at home Wednesday against Struthers.
Eye another title: If the Tigers [7-2 in the MAC] beat the Wildcats, they will clinch a tie for the MAC title. Howland could win the crown outright with a win plus a Canfield loss [Wednesday against Niles]. Howland won the MAC outright last year.
Burin wound up with 10 points while McNeil added eight and Thomas contributed eight rebounds for JFK, which compiled its third straight 13-7 regular-season record under Smith. Kelly Puskar chipped in with three steals.
"I'm on a roll," said Smith"[Our] help-side defense [contributed]. They put more pressure on the ball."
Changed tactics: "We were letting Quinlan bring the ball to the 3-point line. But we prevented that from happening [in the second half]."
"We didn't shoot real well the first half, and they played good defense and kept it close," Diehl said.
He also thought that Smith's talk during a timeout somehow rallied her team.
"We were up by 10-11 in the third quarter. I don't know what she told them, but it worked," Diehl said. "This was the closest game this season."
Missed Marianne: Smith thought Howland missed Marianne Krezeczowski when she left the game saddled with fouls.
"When Marianne Krezeczowski went out with her fourth foul, they seemed not to know [what player] to go to," said Smith.
Diehl agreed. "This is the first time she had to go out on fouls, and Ferenac [also went out], too. We had different girls at different positions, and they [our players] may have got a little confused."