Thursday, December 29, 2016
By GARY HOUSTEAU
It took two overtime sessions and a clutch three-point shot from sophomore Amanda Zupko to enable the Struthers High School girls basketball team to hand Poland its first loss, 82-79.
“I tip my hat to Struthers,” Poland head coach Nick Blanch said. “They played a great game and we played a great game.
“It was two good teams going at each other really,” Blanch said. “As a basketball fan, that is what you want to see.
“Truthfully, I loved it.”
When Struthers took a five-point lead at 65-60 with about two minutes remaining in regulation, it appeared that the young, upstart Wildcats were headed for the upset.
But the Bulldogs (8-1) battled back. When senior Emily Melnek made one of two free throws off her late steal, the game went to overtime, 67-67.
The fireworks didn’t really start until the second overtime with the game tied at 69-69. Junior Alexis Bury buried two three-point shots and junior Khaylah Brown added a basket to stretch the Struthers lead to 77-72 with 1:07 left in the session.
Once again, the Bulldogs battled back and closed the gap to one at 77-76 with 50 ticks still on the clock.
That’s when Zupko put the virtual dagger in the Bulldogs with her three-point shot right in front of the Struthers bench to put the Wildcats up 80-76.
“I heard them say ‘No’ and I thought ‘Okay, either I miss the shot and get screamed at or I just go for it.’ So I just went for it and it went in,” Zupko said. “When it went through I was really happy.
“It was my biggest shot.”
Struthers head coach John Grandy admitted that he was not expecting Zupko to take the crucial shot.
“But she did,” Grandy said. “You know why? Because she’s not afraid to shoot it.
“When it came down to it, she ain’t afraid, she was ice,” Grandy said. “We were actually trying to pull the ball back out. We wanted to use some clock, and she buried the three.”
Zupko, who finished with six points, wasn’t the only hero that Grandy credited.
“I thought Alexis Bury came up big,” Grandy said. “She hit two big threes in the OT session.
“Those were huge,” he said. “And Khaylah Brown plays her heart out, she made some clutch buckets.”
For Poland, sophomore Sarah Bury led with 24 points. Junior Bella Gajdos scored 19 points and Melnek chipped in with 18 points.
“You had a double OT game with two of the best teams in the area going at each other,” Blanch said. “You had a great crowd, and we’re talking girls basketball here.
“I am very proud of what my team did tonight. They did everything we asked them to do and then some.”
Brown scored 17 of her game-high 25 points in the second half to go with 15 rebounds, while Alexis Bury scored 12 of her 15 points after the intermission. Trinity McDowell netted 19 points and Emily Grandy 15 on five 3-point shots.
“I think it was a gutsy win for us. Big-time gutsy,” Grandy said. "I just loved the way our team played together, and I loved the way they didn’t quit.”