By Doug Chapin
The Wildcats reeled off an 18-1 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, and went on to their seventh victory, 57-51.
LIBERTY — An 18-1 run covering the final minute of the third quarter and the first three minutes of the fourth quarter carried Struthers High to a 57-51 girls basketball victory Wednesday night over Liberty High in an All-American Conference White Division contest.
The Leopards (5-7, 0-2) had utilized an effective fast break to put together a 20-7 second quarter on the way to a 31-23 halftime lead. The advantage reached 42-32 with 1:34 remaining in the third stanza.
Struthers (7-5, 1-0) closed the gap to 42-36 by the end of the quarter and turned up the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter, utilizing its own fast break game, to build a 50-43 advantage at the five-minute mark.
The Wildcats’ largest lead after that was 54-45 and Liberty could get no closer than 54-51.
“We pressured them a little bit better in the second half,” Struthers coach John Grandy said. “I was happy with our defense in the second half. We put a little more pressure on them. And I thought a huge factor was their best player [Melissa Dykes] fouling out of the game.”
Dykes, a senior and the Leopards’ best ball handler, missed most of the third quarter after picking up her fourth foul, then fouled out less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Both defenses were aggressive, making it difficult to run effective half-court offense. Struthers held Liberty to 34 percent (21-of-61) shooting, recorded 16 steals and forced 18 Liberty turnovers. The Leopards kept Struthers to 33 percent (22-of-66) shooting, had 15 steals of their own and forced 10 turnovers.
“I think what it boiled down to tonight is we ran out of gas,” Liberty coach John Hritz said. “Over that snow break we only practiced one day and I think we just didn’t have our legs tonight.
“We’re young with just three seniors, and when they get in foul trouble we have problems offensively.”
Dykes recorded 12 points, five assists and four steals. Forwards Shanae Thomas (nine points, 11 rebounds), Ashley Venable (10 points, nine rebounds) and Chi Chi Merriweather (11 points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots) helped Liberty to a 42-35 edge on the boards.
Helen Hird had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Struthers and Dana Mathews added 15 points, four assists and four steals. Sally Phillips had eight points and eight rebounds and Katelyn Ardale contributed eight points.
“I really don’t think we have played our best ball yet,” Grandy said. “We’ve had three starters out for a while and they haven’t practiced in two or three days. I give the girls credit for battling the flu, and I know everyone else does that too, but I think our best basketball hopefully is ahead of us.”
The Wildcats also are in uncharted territory playing in the AAC White Division with Liberty, Hubbard, Lakeview and Beaver Local, none of which were in the old Metro Athletic Conference
“We really didn’t know what to expect in the league. All we know is we respect the people in this division,” Grandy said. “At Struthers we haven’t had a championship in a while and we’ve only had one winning season in the last seven years. So going into this league, we respect them all and we’ll play them one at a time.
“We haven’t played these teams before but I don’t know if that’s an advantage to us or not. We just know we are in a new league and we’re trying to be competitive.”