GREENFORD – Defense will win you a lot of games.
The South Range Raiders girls’ basketball team took control of its Northeast-8 conference game with Struthers by utilizing a pressing defense and forcing rushed shots in a 45-33 victory over the Wildcats on the Raiders senior night.
“That was in our scouting report, and these girls did a phenomenal job of executing that. We didn’t want to give them open looks. Struthers likes to shoot the ball and we knew that. So, we wanted to take that away,” Raiders coach Jeff Fishel said. “That is the best we have played in a while.”
The victory improves the Raiders to 10-1 in the league and 12-6 overall. It also sets up a huge battle for the top spot in the NE8 Wednesday night when the Raiders play league-leading Poland on the Bulldogs home court.
“This group of girls has been through so many things off the court with the ups and downs of a season that this is nothing new to us. Last year, the Poland game got moved back to where we had to keep winning to make that game meaningful, and sure enough this year it got moved back so we have had to keep winning league games. And these girls did that,” Fishel commented on the upcoming clash.
“It’s definitely an emotional time with the season wrapping up as a senior. But playing together as a team definitely helped us to calm down and helping each other out,” Raiders senior point guard Alexis Giles remarked.
The Raiders led from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer as they jumped ahead with an 8-0 run before the Wildcats were able to get on the scoreboard at the 3:42 mark when Faith Stellato knocked down a basket. The Raiders would go on to hold a 10-4 advantage at the close of the opening period.
Following a bucket by Giles at the 5:16 mark of the second quarter, the Raiders had staked themselves to a nine-point, 15-6 lead. They would go into the locker rooms at halftime enjoying an eight-point, 21-13 lead.
“We knew how they play,” Wildcats coach Bill Neider remarked about the Raiders defense. “But they definitely came out and set the tone and the whole thing is that we need to get tougher. They were physical, and we need to be able to match that a little bit. We were definitely rushing some shots.”
But Giles was just getting warmed up in the second quarter. She celebrated her senior night by draining a shot from behind the arc at the top of the key just 26 seconds into the second half. Following two more baskets by Giles and her senior teammate Mallory Vidman, the Raiders’ advantage exploded to 15-points at 30-15 with 3:47 remaining in the period.
“That definitely took the weight off of our shoulders,” Giles said of the quick 9-0 run to start the second half. “It made it easier to keep our cool and keep playing.”
The Raiders pushed the lead out to a game-high 19 points moments later on a basket by Emma Cunnigham at 34-15. When Cunningham converted two free throws with 17-ticks left in the frame, the Raiders held that same 19-point margin at 36-17.
“It’s been a long time since we have looked up and had the scoreboard look that way for us,” Fishel remarked about enjoying a 19-point lead. “We have either been on the other side of that, or in close games.”
But the Wildcats, who drop to 10-9 on the season, 8-4 in the league, lived up to their moniker as they fought back to start the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run at the start of the period. By the 3:00 mark of the fourth period, the Wildcats had completed a 13-2 run to cut the deficit down to just eight points at 38-30. That is when Giles and Cunningham coolly converted five of six free throws for the Raiders to secure the victory.
“We were panicking a little bit, but I think eventually we realized that we needed to just calm down and just play our game. We knew everything would work out for us in the end,” Giles said.
“Our girls played with a lot of heart, and they never quit,” Neider said. “This game really helps us to prepare for tournament play. The more you see that kind of pressure, the more you get comfortable, and you don’t rush. This (game) definitely helps us going into tournament time.”
As mentioned, the Raiders will be in action Wednesday night when they play at league leader Poland. The Wildcats will play at Girard Thursday night in their next game.