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Cameron girls edge, eliminate Madonna

DRIBBLING — Madonna’s Jazzy Melnyk dribbles the ball down court during a Class A sectional semifinal against Cameron on Tuesday. -Kyle Lutz

MOUNDSVILLE — During the opening minutes of Cameron’s Class A Region 1, Section 1 game against Madonna, Dragons coach Holly Pettit was experiencing some deja vu.

In the OVAC Class 1A semifinals, the Blue Dons took an early lead right after tipoff. This time around, the hole was even deeper, as Madonna scored the game’s first eight points. However, like in the previous matchup, the Dragons clawed their way back, played some great defense and made enough plays down the stretch to secure a 42-38 victory Tuesday night at the John Marshall Fieldhouse.

Cameron will face Wheeling Central Friday night for the sectional championship. The Maroon Knights secured a 68-39 victory over Valley in the other semifinal game Tuesday.

“Yes it did because in the semifinal game, they got the tip right off the bat and scored within two seconds,” Pettit said. “Sometimes you worry if that sets the tone of the game. So, a little bit of me was like, ‘Oh no. Here we go again.’ But, my girls have such grit and heart. Deep down, I knew that they had it in them to fight back and to play the game they know how.”

And that’s exactly what they did. A pair of Lili Neely free throws put the first points on the board for the Dragons. From there, they continued to chip away at the lead. It wasn’t until late in the second quarter when Cameron took its first lead of the evening. Down 17-16 after Vanessa Alatis went 1 of 2 at the line, Reagan Gray tallied a basket to put the Dragons on top for the first time. They would not relinquish the lead.

But, the rest of way was a hard-fought battle.

About midway through the third quarter with the score tied at 22-22, the Dragons scored 10 of the next 12 points to take an eight-point lead with 1:55 to go. However, the Blue Dons got right back in it. Jazzy Melnyk cashed in for a 3-pointer, while Alatis tallied a bucket to put the score at 32-29 going into the fourth with Madonna getting the ball.

Emma Whipkey, though, stole an inbounds pass and recorded the Dragons’ only field goal of the quarter to put the score at 34-29.

“She’s one of our best defenders, and she’s really good at getting her hands on the basketball and tipping it,” Pettit said. “Several times this year, she’s tipped it and had a nice layup. It was very nice to see her finish that.”

From there, it was a free-throw contest as not a single field goal was recorded until 17.9 seconds remaining in the contest. The Dragons also had to face much adversity as three of their starters — Gray, Maeyln Canada and Aubre Cain-Loy — fouled out of the game.

“I only had 10 girls (Tuesday) and normally only play seven or eight girls,” Pettit said. “When that happened, you think, ‘What are we going to do now?’ And, I give credit to Stef Starcher, one of my seniors. She stepped in and for the last minute and half played great defense. She went to the foul line, took care of the basketball and didn’t have any turnovers. Reagan Gray, who is our best defender, played great defense on Melnyk. That was our game plan was to try to keep her from scoring and getting to the basket. She played great defense.”

With 6:56 left in the fourth, the Blue Dons got within three after a pair of Alaina Moore free throws put the score at 34-31. That was as close as they would get.

Cameron sunk six straight free throws to take its largest lead of the game at 40-31. The Blue Dons cut their deficit to five on a pair of occasions but couldn’t find their first field goal of the contest until Julia Wingett cashed in with 17.9 seconds remaining for the final score of the game.

“I thought it was a great sectional battle. That’s the way a (No.) 2 (No.) 3 matchup should be,” Madonna coach Rodney Boniti said.

“We knew they would be ready, and we knew they would be aggressive. I honestly thought we dominated the majority of the first half. I thought we did what we wanted to do.

“Give credit to Cameron. They came out in the third period and they put it to us. They got up by five or six. Had a chance to pull away in the third period, and our girls battled back and got right back into striking range. Just couldn’t get the final push.”

And, it was the Blue Dons who dominated the first quarter. On their first shot attempt, Anna Backel dented the scoreboard. Alatis followed with her first field goal of the night. After another Backel basket, Marianna Martinez made it 8-0 Madonna with 3:28 to go in the first.

Alatis tallied a team-high 12 points for the Blue Dons, while Moore netted 10.

For the Dragons, Neely turned in a game-high 16-point performance.

Cameron 42, Madonna 38

Madonna 10-8-11-9 — 38

Cameron 6-14-12-10 — 42

MADONNA: Castello 0 0-0 0; Backel 2 0-0 4; Wingett 1 0-0 2; Melnyk 2 3-4 8; Alatis 4 5-6 12; Moore 1 8-8 10; Lenhart 0 0-0 0; Martinez 1 0-3 2. TOTALS: 11, 15-21: 38.

CAMERON: Whipkey 1 3-10 5; Gray 1 4-4 6; Neely 3 8-10 16; Canada 3 2-2 8; Dobbs 0 0-0 0; Carter 0 0-0 0; Cain-Loy 2 2-4 7; Starcher 0 0-2 0. TOTALS: 10, 19-32: 42.

3-POINT GOALS: Melnyk; Neely 2, Cain-Loy.

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