By Tom Williams
After watching Canton Central Catholic whittle Struthers’ 11-point lead down to one, Wildcats junior point guard McKenna Shives took matters into her own hands.
With 3:15 remaining, Shives connected on a 3-point attempt from near the top of the key. Thirty seconds later, she hit another from near the baseline, leading the undefeated Wildcats to Saturday’s 48-37 victory at Struthers Fieldhouse.
The game was the third contest of the five-game Hope Foundation of the Mahoning Valley’s Hope Classic.
“McKenna is a great point guard,” junior Brittaney Zupko said. “At the beginning of the game, she wasn’t really hitting shots. But at the end of the game, she picked it up for us.
“That’s what a true point guard does. When she hit those 3s, that really got us motivated.”
Struthes head coach John Grandy had no trouble with Shives taking a long-distance chance in a tight game.
“They have the freedom to shoot that,” Grandy said of his guards. “Those were big, big shots.” Shives was impressed with the Crusaders (3-1), who rallied from a 25-14 deficit in the third quarter with a 21-10 run.
“They are a really great team, especially Aaliyah Dotson,” Shives said. “She was really [tough] to stop.
“This game was so much more uptempo, upbeat. The energy was tremendous on the floor.”
Shives led the Wildcats with 15 points. Junior Ashleigh Ryan’s 11 points included seven free throws. She also had seven rebounds and four steals. Senior Ashley Hefferon contributed nine points and Zupko eight points plus seven rebounds, two key steals and a block.
“Brittaney played really smart because she had four fouls basically the second half,” Shives said. “She got in there and rebounded for us.”
Dotson led the Crusaders with 11 points while Katie Nixdorf netted 10.
Grandy was pleased with his team’s defensive efforts.
“We came out a little nervous,” said Grandy, noting an early 8-3 deficit. “We missed some shots that normally we make.
“I can’t say enough about the defense,” said Grandy, whose Wildcats held the Crusaders to three points in the second quarter. “They have good athletes so you better be prepared to buckle up and move to play defense. You can’t lose your girl or you’re going to pay for it.”
Early in the second quarter, Shives hit a jumpshot and Hallie Smrek hit a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats ahead, 11-10, a lead they kept despite a close call in the fourth quarter.
“We settled down,” Grandy said of the early surge. “We were a little hyper.”
In the final minutes, Ryan made three free throws and Hefferon two as the Wildcats pulled away.
Zupko said working on their defense was the Wildcats’ mission.
“That was the true definition of teamwork tonight,” said Zupko of the Wildcats withstanding the Crusaders’ second-half surge. “Compared to our last couple of games, our defense is getting progressively better. It’s due to the hard work we put into practice.”