By GreG gulas
In winning their first nine games of the season, the Struthers girls basketball team’s offense seemed to be clicking on all cylinders.
After losing three of their last four outings by a combined 13 points, that offense was humbled and their defense, for lack of a better term, lacked intensity.
On Thursday, the Wildcats returned to their earlier form at both ends of the floor.
Ashleigh Ryan had a game-high 17 points while Brittaney Zupko grabbed 10 rebounds as Struthers defeated Howland, 42-31 in an All-American Conference, American Division contest at the Struthers Fieldhouse.
“Our defense wasn’t up to par the past several games so Coach [John] Grandy just stressed defense all week in practice, and it paid off for us tonight,” Ryan said. “We play every game as if it is a conference game so to beat a good league opponent like Howland, and get back on the winning track in the process is definitely big for us. We definitely picked up the intensity at both ends of the court.”
Ryan scored nine of her 17 points in the opening period as the Wildcats raced to a 17-9 advantage just eight minutes into the game.
They trailed just once in the contest, 4-2 at a little over 3 minutes into the game.
Four points by Ashley Hefferon in the second quarter then staked Struthers (11-3, 4-1) to a comfortable 25-15 halftime advantage.
“We were looking to make a statement on defense tonight because a John Diehl-coached Howland team, whether he has a young team or a veteran unit is always going to play good defense,” Grandy. “You only get what you earn with them.
“We fell off of our defensive horse the past few games so hopefully we’re back on the saddle now. I’ve been here 10 years and we’ve never beaten Howland, and you can go a few years prior to that to find the last time we defeated them so this was definitely a big win for us.”
A 3-pointer by the Tigers’ Jordan Entler and a bucket by Trisha Ginnis helped Howland (7-6, 3-3) start the second half on a 5-2 run as the Tigers pulled to within 27-22 at the 5:41 mark of the third period.
Zupko’s three points helped Struthers close the period with a 9-2 run of its own as they forged a 36-24 lead with one quarter remaining.
“I’m happy with our overall effort, especially the fact that we were able to hold Struthers to just 42 points on their court. Sometimes we were a little too anxious, throwing the ball away at crucial times but those are the growing pains that you experience when you have a young team,” Diehl noted. “Struthers is a good team and the team that I picked to win the conference. To only lose by 11 on their hardwood shows that we are continuing to grow as a team.”
The Wildcats held a 34-23 rebound advantage with Gabby Cvengros pulling down a team-high five caroms for the Tigers.