By Pete Chiodo
The Saegertown girls basketball team might not be blessed with a bunch of dazzling dribblers or lights-out shooters. But what the Panthers do have is a group of girls that are going to hustle. And that one vital attribute nearly netted the Lady Cats a big upset win over an undefeated North East squad on Friday night.
The Grapepickers, however, held on for a 32-30 win over Saegertown in the championship game of the 53rd annual Elks Holiday Basketball Tournament.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but we do that every game,” said Saegertown head coach Steve Scott. “But they’re hustling. That’s what we do. We’re not a real good shooting team. We try to get some shots, and if they fall we’ll take them. But we played hard.”
With the loss, Saegertown’s record now stands at an even 4-4. North East improves to 7-0 on the season.
“North East is a good team,” said Scott. “They could have blown us out by 30 points if they were on. But the kids played well defensively. They were getting out and guarding. They did what they had to do to keep in the game at the end.”
In the first quarter, it looked like North East was going to have its way with Saegertown. The ’Pickers rolled out to an 11-4 lead.
However, Saegertown’s zone defense started to wear on North East in the second quarter. The ’Pickers forked over nine turnovers and were just 3-for-11 from the field, including 0-for-7 from the arc.
“Good teams force you into doing things you’re not used to doing,” said North East head coach Terry Frontino. “We practice against the zone a lot, but we don’t see it a lot. I think at times we were a little impatient. We missed a lot of shots that we normally make.”
For the game, North East was 12-for-37 from the floor (32.4 percent) and just 3-for-20 from the 3-point line (15 percent).
“We’re usually a high-scoring team,” said Frontino. “They just didn’t go down tonight. And that’s when you hope the defense picks it up. And I thought for the most part the defense played a good game.”
Led by Rachel DiBartolomeo’s five points, Saegertown outscored North East 10-7 in the second quarter, cutting the ’Pickers’ lead to 18-14 at the half.
The third period slowed to a crawl as North East, leading 20-18 with a little under five minutes to go in the frame, started holding onto the ball at the point.
Saegertown refused to get out of the zone, and instead the Cats caused chaos in the passing lanes and picked off three of North East’s possessions as time wound down. That allowed the Panthers to outscore the ’Pickers 5-2 in the frame, nibbling North East’s lead down to 20-19 going into the fourth.
A little ways into the final quarter, Saegertown grabbed its first lead since early in the first when Rebecca Siple and Arianna Hanley converted back-to-back fast break layups, making it 23-22 Panthers with 6:25 to play.
However, North East grabbed the lead right back when Prather hit a 3-pointer and Madison Turiczek followed that up with a short jumper in the paint.
North East wouldn’t lose the lead again. However, Saegertown didn’t make it easy. DiBartolomeo hit a couple free throws to make it 32-27 with 2:14 remaining. Then after some defensive back-and-forth, the Cats peeled away a ’Pickers possession, leading to a layup-plus-1 by DiBartolomeo down at the other end, trimming the score to 32-30 with 43 seconds to go.
Saegertown had two more opportunities to score. The Cats got the rock back on a jump ball with 13 seconds left. Ashley Shouey was, some could argue, hacked while taking a 3 with eight seconds to go, but no call was made. And with 4.5 seconds left, North East’s Alex Artise missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Saegertown got the rebound and Hanley let go of a 3 from midcourt but it missed the mark. North East escaped with the win.
“They played hard,” said Scott. “They came out and played hard. A missed foul shot here or there, turn the ball over, miss a layup here or there, the no-call on Ashley there at the end — this game could have gone either way. Any little thing could have changed that game. We kept close with them. We kept coming back. The kids played hard.”
DiBartolomeo led the Panthers with a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double. She was named to the all-tournament team. Victoria Eckart was the Cats’ next highest scorer with five points.
For North East, Alex Artise and Prather both scored eight points while Bowen scored seven. Artise made the all-tourney team. Bowen was tournament MVP.