By Dan Hiner
When a basketball team goes to the free throw line in the final minutes of a game, the players try to create a little cushion on the scoreboard.
But the McDonald girls basketball team found another way.
The Blue Devils converted only two of their seven free throws in the final minute in their 37-32 win over unbeaten Jackson-Milton on Monday night.
But the Blue Devils (12-4) grabbed three offensive rebounds in their four trips to the line and limited Jackson-Milton to one possession in the final minute.
The defeat was the first time the Blue Jays lost a conference game since Feb. 10, 2015.
Jackson-Milton head coach Pat Keney said his team was “playing not to lose.”
“My hat’s off to McDonald,” Keney said. “They’re kids are young and they played with a lot of heart. They outhustled us tonight. They came to play harder than we did.”
McDonald’s Abbie Matig went to the line with 30 seconds on the clock and missed her second free throw, but she grabbed her own rebound.
“Our coach really stresses a lot of importance on free throws and we knew the little things like free throws would come down to it,” Matig said. “When I looked at the scoreboard and I knew how close I knew those free throws were gonna be really, really important.
“The fact that the game was based on those free throws was really something. It was really new, I guess.”
McDonald head coach Amy Dolsak said her players were tired late in the fourth quarter and they “lucked out” with their second chances.
The Blue Jays (15-1, 11-1 Mahoning Valley Atheltic Conference) held a slight 18-11 lead at halftime. But the Blue Devils led 32-26 after McDonald went on a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
“Against a team like that, every possession offensively matters and it needs to have a purpose,” Dolsak said. “In the second half I think we did a better job of not just settling and executing and working together better.
“And using the clock to our advantage to get the best possible look we could against them.”
Michaelina Terranova led the Blue Jays with nine points. Ashley Cameron scored six points and grabbed nine rebounds for Jackson-Milton.
Jackson-Milton played the game with some injuries. But Keney didn’t want to make excuses. He said the team can learn from their loss and won’t have to stress about an undefeated season.
“I told the kids it’s just one game,” Keney said. “We got a long season to go yet. We hope to get another player back and other players have to step up and do their part.”
Matig finished with five points and Molly Howard scored all of team-high nine points in the fourth quarter.
Matig said the team might need to work on its free throw shooting, but said the win helped the team get some confidence with the playoff bracket approaching.
“The first time we played them this season, it was really hard,” Matig said. “We knew we could beat them and we had the ability to beat them, but when we didn’t, it lowered our confidence ... a lot of unwanted thoughts. I think this win brought up our confidence and showed us the team that we can be.”