Big Red’s roller coaster season concludes early
STEUBENVILLE — The roller coaster ride has come to a disappointing end.
The Steubenville girls basketball team’s up-and-down season concluded in an up-and-down game. Big Red completed a 13-point turnaround to take the lead, but Minerva rallied and re-took the lead. Eighth-seeded Big Red had a chance to tie late, but it was unable to inbound the ball, and the ninth-seeded Lions ended up holding on for a 58-53 victory in a Division II Eastern District Sectional quarterfinal Saturday afternoon inside the Crimson Center.
“We were down 13, and we thought we did a real good job of inching our way back into the game,” Big Red (12-11) head coach Jeff Lombardo said. “We got over the hump, and we were able to take the lead, but we fouled them and they made the shot from the free-throw line. It was a battle back and forth.
“Both teams played hard. Both teams dealt with adversity during the game. When we got down, our girls did a good job of not putting their heads down. They continued to execute on offense and on defense. We ended up having a chance to tie the game. We just were not able to.”
The Lions led 39-26 in the third quarter. Big Red responded with a 24-10 run to take a 50-49 lead with 2:17 remaining in the fourth.
“We did not have an answer for their bigs,” Minerva (13-10) head coach Mike Waller said. “They hit some big 3s. They battled. We had them down by 13, but they did not quit.”
Minerva responded and ripped of a 9-3 run to end the game and tallied six of the final seven points.
With the win, Minerva will now play No. 2 seed Indian Creek in a sectional semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the road.
Three players scored in double digits to lead the way for Big Red. Elexis Martin netted a game-high 21 points, Kylie Maxwell tallied 19 points and Madison Fields 11. Martin and Fields missed the last two weeks due to injuries.
A foursome of players produced double figures in points for Minerva. Maddie Foutz finished with a team-high 14 points, Jenna Cassidy delivered 12 points and Elyssa Imler and Coletta Miller each collected 10.
“They are a good team,” Lombardo said. “Coach Waller does a great job. I have a lot of respect for him and his program. He is a good friend of mine in the summer. I wish them the best of luck going forward.”
Big Red and Minerva traded 3-point plays and leads on back-to-back possessions. First, Martin netted a 3-point play to give the hosts a 50-49 lead, but then Imler countered with one of her own to regain the lead for the Lions at 52-50.
A basket by Fields tied the score, but then the visitors made 3 of 4 foul shots to take a 55-52 lead. A foul shot by Fields made the score 55-53 with 22.7 seconds left, but the winners regained a 3-point advantage with another foul shot two seconds later.
Big Red looked to tie the score, but a 3-point attempt from the corner by Martin was blocked, and the ball went out of bounds with 4.3 seconds still showing on the scoreboard clock.
Lombardo set up a final play, but his team was unable to inbound the ball and was called for a 5-second violation, turning the ball back over to the Lions. Imler made a pair of free throws to seal the deal and to account for the final score.
“We knew they were going to be guarding the 3-point line,” Lombardo said. “I drew up something new. It was something we have not run before. We wanted to set a back screen and pass the ball to Lexie in the opposite corner. We had a double screen for Myla (Gulan). We thought Lexi would be open. They did a good job of covering the back screen. They switched, and she was not open.”
The first quarter ended with the game deadlocked at 10-10.
The Lions began to gain control of the game in the second, as they outscored Big Red, 16-9, to take a 26-19 lead at halftime. The score was tied at 14, but Minerva responded by scoring 10 of the next 13 points to take a 24-17 lead.
A 3-point play by Foutz made the score 31-21, and later a basket by Miller made the score 35-24 with 3:24 left to play in the third quarter. A free throw by Miller gave the Lions their biggest lead of the game at 39-26 with less than two minutes left in the quarter.
“They like to get after it,” Lombardo said about the Lions. “They like to press. Their press bothered us for two-and-a-half quarters. We did a good job in the third and fourth quarters using the press to our advantage. We did a good job of beating the press, and we were able to score. Beating the press enabled us to get back into the game.”
A 3-point play by Martin pulled Big Red to within 41-34, but a 3-pointer by Ella Kendrick regained a double-digit advantage for Minerva. Maxwell tallied a 3-point play to make it a seven-point game once again, and Big Red continued to mount their comeback.
Another 3-point play by Maxwell pulled the visitors to within one point, and then another bucket by the freshman made the score 48-47 with 3:27 left. Imler then hit a foul shot with 2:35 remaining to put her team up by two.
Big Red had chances late in the game, but they were unable to tame the Lions.
“The season ends for everyone this way except one team,” Lombardo said. “There are a lot of teams in Ohio in Division II. We had hoped to win a couple of games, but it was not meant to be.
“We did not go down without a fight. We gave ourselves a chance, but we were not able to win it in the end.”
DOWN THE CREEK
The Redskins defeated the Lions, 43-27, Dec. 28 at Minerva.
“We know they are strong on the inside,” Waller said. “They have good guards. They are a complete team. They get after you. I have a lot of respect for them. They are 21-1 for a reason. Steve (Eft) has done a nice job with them.”
The loss to the Lions brought Big Red’s season to a disappointing end. Big Red got off to a bit of a slow start to the season, but the team rebounded to win eight straight games to improve to 10-3. Big Red ended the season by playing against high-level competition like Fort Frye, Bellaire, Martins Ferry and Catholic Central.
“We faced a lot of adversity this season,” Lombardo said. “That is what I told the kids. Our kids have the privilege of playing high school sports. a lot of kids don’t have that privilege. It is good to have to face adversity. It is good to have ups-and-downs. Those our things adults have to face in life. Going through these things will help them. They may not know it yet, but these ups-and-downs will help them grow into responsible adults.”
Minerva 58, Steubenville 53
Minerva 10-16-13-19 — 58
Steubenville 10-9-9-25 — 53
MINERVA (13-10): Imler 2 5-7 10; Foutz 5 3-4 14; Kendrick 1 0-0 3; Walton 0 1-2 1; C. Miller 3 2-4 10; L. Miller 0 1-2 1; Cassidy 2 7-10 12; Slentz 3 1-2 7. TOTALS: 16, 20-31: 58.
STEUBENVILLE (12-11): Thompson 0 0-1 0; Gulan 0 0-0 0; Cucarese 1 0-1 2; Maxwell 8 3-5 19; Fields 3 5-8 11; Minniefield 0 0-0 0; Martin 8 3-4 21; Hill 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 20, 11-19: 53.
3-POINTERS: Minerva 6 (C. Miller 2, Imler, Foutz, Kendrick, Cassidy); Steubenville 2 (Martin).