PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Lady Chucks fell behind early for the second day in a row and were unable to overcome the deficit to lose 39-33 in the consolation game against the Lady Cougars of Hazleton at the 17th-annual Carl A. Truance Holiday Classic Thursday afternoon in Punxsutawney.
The Lady Cougars' intense full-court pressure defense was a key factor in shutting down the Lady Chucks in the first quarter, and Hazleton converted early to jump out to a 13-5 lead in the first quarter.
"Their pressure bothered us," Punxsy head coach Randy Reitz said after the game. "They came at us for 32 minutes. Certain times, we handled it well, and other times, we didn't handle it so well."
The Lady Chucks came out a bit flat and were unable to manufacture scoring opportunities when they possessed the ball in their zone.
"When you play a team that pressures you, you have to be in the game mentally for all 32 minutes," Reitz said. "We had some mental lapses throughout the game. We went down 13-5 in the first quarter, and we just aren't good enough offensively yet to go down early like that."
Punxsy's initial plan was to slow down the Lady Cougars with a spread offense that looked for an opportunity to penetrate the defense, but Hazleton filled the gaps well and kept the Lady Chucks away from the key and outside the three-point arc.
When Punxsy did manage to send the ball inside, the Lady Cougars defense clamped down and forced quick passes to clear the zone.
"The pressure defense bothered us all around," Reitz said. "It bothered our guards and bothered our bigs, and we were hurrying our shots. We needed to catch the ball, gather ourselves and give some pump fakes. Because we're not very big inside, we need to get them in the air and go around them. But that will come with more experience and more practice."
Punxsy's plan didn't seem so bad at first with point guard Ashley Reitz putting the first two points on the board on a pair of free throws after gaining penetration and forcing a foul, but Hazleton answered with the next six points to take the lead for good.
Punxsy senior Alex Magill — who was named to the All-Tournament team after a 14-point performance Wednesday night against Marion Center — was the only other Lady Chuck to score in the first quarter with a three to bring Punxsy back within one.
The Lady Cougars ended the quarter on a 7-0 run, though, to open the game up.
Punxsy, which trailed big at halftime Wednesday night and fought back to tie the game late, battled back again with baskets by Reitz, Lauren Giavedoni, Magill and a three by Taylor Newcome, cutting the lead to one again halfway through the second quarter.
But Hazleton finished the quarter with an 8-1 run to lead 23-15 at halftime.
The Lady Chucks came out of the half with their strongest quarter of the game, outscoring Hazleton 9-8, but the Lady Cougars closed the game with a 10-7 fourth quarter to seal the win.
Threes by Ashley Reitz and Emily Horner narrowed the gap again in the third quarter for the Lady Chucks, but Hazleton's hot-handed shooter Becca Zamonas kept Hazleton ahead.
Zamonas had 13 points in the win to lead Hazleton, and was named to the All-Tournament team after the game.
The Lady Chucks made one last push in the fourth, led by three three-pointers by Newcome, but the lead was too large to overcome, and the Lady Cougars won 39-33, leaving Punxsy still winless on the season.
"We battled back well today, and this will be a good teaching experience," coach Reitz said. "Hopefully, we'll start winning some games here at the first of the year."
Punxsy's early schedule was no help with five games on the road to kick the season off, so Reitz and his squad are looking forward to settling in with four of the next five games at home.
First on the list for the Lady Chucks is an out-of-league matchup with DuBois Central Catholic next Wednesday.
Punxsy's junior varsity squad also took the court earlier Thursday with a morning game against Marion Center's JV team.
Marion Center's stifling defense clamped down on the Lady Chucks and held them to five points or less in each quarter to earn a 45-14 victory, avenging a 29-21 loss to Punxsy at the Marion Center Tip-Off Tournament Dec. 10.
Karle Snyder and Chelsea Yeomans led the Lady Stingers with eight points apiece.
Ivy Phillips scored half of the Lady Chucks' points to set the pace with seven.
Shaina Painter, Anna Horner and Ashley Whitesell each had two for Punxsy, and Rachael Barnett had one to wrap up the scoring.
The JV squad tips off next Wednesday against DCC at 6 p.m. with the varsity game to follow.
In the girls' championship game, played Thursday night, Westmont Hilltop defeated the Marion Center Lady Stingers 70-49 to claim the girls' crown.