YSU survives epic rally from Milwaukee
By BRIAN DZENIS
Youngstown State was nearly the victim of an epic comeback Sunday.
The Penguins blew a 17-point second-half lead against Milwaukee in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Tournament, but mustered enough at the end of the game to win, 62-58.
“They just played really hard and they didn’t give up when they could have and good for them,” Penguin forward Sarah Cash said. “It’s hard to play a team that keeps fighting back.”
The Penguins’ (16-14, 11-7 in the League) four-point win is the largest margin of victory for either side among the three games they played this year. Both teams had one-point victories at home to split the regular-season series.
It didn’t look like the game was going to go that way for the majority of the contest. The Penguins held the Panthers (20-11, 11-7) under 30 percent shooting in each of the first three quarters and led 48-31 with 33 seconds left in the third quarter. Then the Panthers ripped off a 21-3 run stretching into the third quarter. The Panthers’ Jenny Lindner hit two free throws and Kelsey Cunningham scored 10 unanswered points and a Steph Kostowicz 3-pointer gave Milwaukee its first lead since the first quarter at 51-48.
Pressed into action after YSU’s Kelley Wright broke her collarbone in the the team’s regular-season finale, reserve forward Natalie Myers hit a 3-pointer to tie the game again with 3:30 to go.
“I knew it was mine or [Anne Secrest’s] time to step up,” Myers said. “I listened to the gameplan, knew my personnel and I went out there and played hard.”
Penguins freshman Chelsea Olson gave YSU the lead for good at 56-53 with a little over two minutes to go. The two sides traded missed jumpers and then Indiya Benjamin hit another 3 for a six-point lead.
“That was a big shot. Their post-players were kind of playing off near the left hand side,” Benjamin said. “I had a little bit of space to hit the 3. I was praying that it would go in and it did.”
YSU stumbled a little bit at the free-throw line to make the game interesting at the end, as Milwaukee squeezed in one more 3 in between Cash going zero for two at the line and Benjamin going one for two to make it 60-58 Penguins. Milwaukee had the ball with 13 seconds left.
The Panthers drew up a play to set up Kostowicz, the team’s second-leading scorer, for a layup. But she couldn’t get the shot to fall with three seconds to go.
“We drew it up to have Steph get the ball off a screen in the post with Cash guarding her,” Milwukee coach Kyle Rechlicz said. “I said to my team in the lockerroom that I would give the ball to Steph 1,000 times in that situation. I was as shocked as she was when it didn’t go in.”
Cash was fouled while grabbing the miss and made two free throws at the line to seal the win.
“I needed to make those two free throws because I just missed two,” Cash said.
The Lordstown graduate led the Penguins with 24 points and eight rebounds. Benjamin added 13 points and Myers made four 3-pointers off the bench for 12 points.
Lindner led Milwaukee with 14 points and 15 rebounds and Kelsey Cunningham added 12 points.
Fifth-seeded YSU will play top-seeded Green Bay at 1 p.m. today.
“The phrase ‘survive and advance’ fits for this game and we’re just excited to play one more game,” YSU coach John Barnes said.