Harkins helps Rams notch their first win
By Greg Gulas
The Mineral Ridge Rams lost their season opener last week to Crestview, managing just seven of 62 field goal attempts during a 59-26 road loss to the Rebels.
Showing signs of fatigue by playing their fifth game in eight days, the Lowellville Rockets provided the perfect opposition for the Rams if they expected to rectify their shooting woes.
Alexa Harkins took note.
Harkins had a game-high 14 points while the Mineral Ridge defense held the Rockets to single-digit scoring in all but the third quarter as the Rams defeated the Rockets, 45-33 in the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference opener for both teams Monday at Paul V. Johnson Gymnasium.
“In our opener against Crestview, we started slow, didn’t play together as a team and as a result were forced to play catch-up the entire game,” Harkins said. “Today, we had plenty of emotion right from the start and that was key. We seized the momentum early, took the lead at the end of the first period and this time it was us playing with the lead over the last three quarters.”
While the Rams (1-1, 1-0 MVAC) will still look to improve at the foul line — they were just 9 of 19 — their defense showed a marked improvement as they held the Rockets (3-2, 0-1 MVAC) to just one field goal in the opening quarter, two in the middle two frames and just eight overall.
Lowellville also struggled at the free-throw line, canning just 13 of 27 attempts.
“We played excellent defense tonight and that really helped us on the offensive end,” Harkins said. “The goal was to improve and we did just that at both ends of the court.”
Marissa Lellio got the Rockets on the board first, hitting a triple at the 6:13 mark for the early 3-0 margin. Mineral Ridge then reeled off the next six points and went on an 8-2 run as they opened an 8-5 margin after the first eight minutes of action.
A bucket by the Rams’ Taryn Kolesar and free throws by Lowellville’s Angie Williams and Marah Ballis made it 10-7 in favor of Mineral Ridge, but Noelle Bukovina’s three points keyed a 9-0 run as the Rams opened a 21-14 lead at intermission.
“We start two sophomores, two juniors and a senior, playing much better tonight defensively. We‘re still struggling offensively, but I thought that we moved the ball really well,” Rams head coach Matt Cluse said. “Including scrimmages, this was the best that we’ve played fundamentally. Also, we played excellent lock-down defense on a team that likes to shoot from beyond the arc. While the hurricane of our league is coming, I was really pleased with our effort.”
A Kalyn Stricklin bucket at 4:56 of the third stanza gave Mineral Ridge their largest lead of the game at 28-15, but a triple by Maddie Warren and three points from Lellio ignited a 9-4 run by the Rockets as they pulled to within 32-24 with a quarter to play.
Six points by Maddie Kelly and a triple by Lellio was all that the Rockets could manage in the final eight minutes, however, as the Rams outscored Lowellville 13-9 for their first win of the season.
Kelly led Lowellville with 13 points while Lellio was the only other Rocket in double-figures with 10.
The Rockets saw their three-game win streak fall by the wayside as they fell to 0-2 on Dick Williams Court.
“Playing five games over eight days, I knew that it would catch up with us sooner or later and tonight it did. Make no excuses and take nothing away from Mineral Ridge, but we had tired legs,” Rockets head coach Lisa Modelski said. “I run only six girls and they’ve played every minute in all five games. Maddie debated as to whether she wanted to play this season and I am so happy for her because this was her moment.
“Marissa also had a nice game and has been our go-to gal both inside and out. She had 20 points against Campbell Memorial the other night and continued her scoring ways tonight. They keyed on her defensively and she still ended up with 10 points.”
Each team was turnover prone as the Rams committed 21 miscues and the Rockets 19.