By Tom Williams
In the waning seconds of the first half, Struthers junior McKenna Shives stole the ball off a South Range player, dribbled over the halfcourt line and launched a prayer.
The ball banked off the backboard into the net, giving the Wildcats a 20-point lead in their opener.
That play best describes how things went for the Wildcats, even though they didn’t play particularly well in Tuesday’s 63-44 victory. It also tells how few bounces went for the Raiders (0-2).
Asked if she thought her long shot would be true, Shives laughed.
“I hoped it would be,” said Shives, who finished with 12 points, five steals and a block. “No, I didn’t think it was going in.”
Shives’ 3-pointer gave the Wildcats a 40-20 lead.
Despite jumping out to a 24-8 lead in the first quarter, Struthers head coach John Grandy said his team has room to improve.
“I didn’t think we played a good game,” Grandy said. “I don’t want to take anything away from South Range — [head coach] Wayne [Johnson] does a great job. They play hard, they didn’t stop, they didn’t quit — but I thought our kids could play much better.
“We missed a lot of easy shots and we kind of stood around on defense.”
Actually, the Raiders and Wildcats both stopped a lot — for free throws. South Range had 23 fouls and Struthers 20. The Raiders made 11 of their 20 attempts while the Wildcats sank 23 of 31 tries.
“We’ve got some work to do,” Grandy said.
“We have a lot of work to do on defense especially,” Shives said.
Junior Ashleigh Ryan led the Wildcats with 15 points including three 3-pointers. Nine of her points were made in the first quarter.
“I just knew that we were ready to play,” said Ryan, adding that the huge lead early “gives you an adrenaline rush to work harder. Then in the second quarter, we needed to pick it up on defense.”
Also reaching double figures for the Wildcats was senior Ashley Hefferon who scored 12 points and made nine rebounds.
Despite accumulating fouls at a rapid pace, the Raiders posted a 10-0 run early in the third quarter to slice the Wildcats’ lead to 43-30.
Two baskets by Shives to end the quarter restored the Wildcats’ cushion.
Senior Lexi Naples led the Raiders with 10 points. Right behind her were junior Sierra Petrella with nine and senior Allison Oliver with eight.