PUNXSUTAWNEY — Friday night, the Lady Chucks wrapped up an extremely difficult week during which they hosted longtime rival Brookville Tuesday and concluded the week against an Elk County Catholic team that was 15-2 entering the contest.
Despite Punxsy playing right with the Lady Crusaders for the first three quarters, ECC pulled away after opening the fourth quarter on a 9-1 run in the first three minutes and cruised to a 34-24 victory in Punxsutawney.
"Well, against a very good team like Elk County, we knew we had to play solid defense," Punxsy head coach Randy Reitz said. "We did that for four quarters. We hung with them for three, and then they kind of wore us down, and we started the fourth quarter with two or three mental mistakes that led to turnovers. Once they got it up to seven or eight, that's just where it stayed."
After a 47-29 loss to ECC last time the two teams met Jan. 11 in St. Marys, Punxsy played just the style of game it needed to in the first half to stay within striking distance. Punxsy played even with the Lady Crusaders, 9-9, in the first quarter in a back-and-forth start to the game.
Punxsy's Taylor Newcome gave her team the early lead with a deep two in the first minute.
But Abbi Petrosky answered back and gave her team the lead with a two of her own after her teammate, Taylor Decanal had knocked down a free throw to pull the Lady Crusaders within one.
ECC tried to pull away, but five points by freshman point guard Alyssa Reitz kept Punxsy even at the first break.
Punxsy's defense clamped down early in the second quarter, but the Lady Chucks' shooting hands also went cold, as it took them over six minutes to score their first basket of the quarter — a baseline bucket by Lauren Giavedoni.
Freshman forward Jensen Constantino added a hoop on Punxsy's next possession, but unfortunately for the Lady Chucks, those were the only four points they would earn in the second quarter.
Punxsy's defense kept them in the contest, though, holding the Lady Crusaders to just seven points in the low-scoring period on four by Maggie Sorg and three by Dacanal.
The Lady Chucks trailed 16-13 at the half.
The third quarter much resembled the first half, a low-scoring affair with both teams playing stellar defense to force the other into turnovers and poor scoring opportunities, and the teams each managed to put up just seven points over the eight-minute stanza.
Punxsy scored its first point on a technical foul free throw by Alex Magill after ECC coach Ken Pistner was issued the foul for arguing a call.
The next basket scored seemed to give Punxsy all the momentum, as point guard Ashley Reitz drilled a three from the top of the key to give the Lady Chucks their first lead since 7-5. But the momentum soon turned back in the Lady Crusaders' favor, as Lexie Meholic answered with a free throw, Dacanal added a bucket, and Meholic finished the mini-streak with a basket of her own.
Newcome brought Punxsy back within one with three minutes left in the quarter, but a basket by Julia Sweeney gave ECC the breathing room it needed, and the Lady Crusaders never looked back from there.
Punxsy's offense struggled again in the fourth quarter, with its only point in the first seven-and-a-half minutes coming on a free throw by Ashley Reitz.
The Lady Crusaders, on the other hand, came out firing in the fourth and found their shooting touch, scoring nine points in the first three minutes of the quarter, then slowing the pace to hold on to their extended cushion.
Reitz added a late three-pointer to her team-high scoring total of seven, but by that point, the game was well out of reach, and ECC wrapped up the 34-24 victory.
"We came out with some energy and played some pretty good defense against a team that has won 15 games," coach Reitz said. "We just need to get a win. Hopefully, we can do a little better on the offensive end and get that win next week when we go to St. Marys."
The Lady Chucks have two District-IX league contests next week with the trip to St. Marys Tuesday and a home game against DuBois Friday.
Reitz said his team will go back to work at practice in preparation for the final two weeks of the season.
One area he said the team will work on is making sure everyone is in the best position possible for rebounds.
"We didn't check out very well from the guard standpoint tonight," he said. "I thought our bigs did all right, but it's tougher to check out from further out on the floor. But our guards just need to get a body on them, release and then go get the basketball. That's something we'll just have to keep working on."
In the junior varsity game prior to the varsity contest, the Lady Crusaders squeezed past the Lady Chucks, 32-26, in a game that was close from start to finish.
ECC's defense had the best of Punxsy in the first quarter with the Lady Chucks' only points coming on a free throw and a layup by Emily Reitz.
Punxsy's pressure defense proved to be difficult for ECC, though, and did the Lady Chucks well, holding ECC to just six in the first, setting the score at 6-3 after one.
Punxsy narrowed the gap in the second by outscoring ECC, 7-6, with four different Punxsy players — Anna Horner, Amber Ward, Rachael Barnett and Lexxi Cielo — all scoring in the quarter. Punxsy's offense managed only seven again in the third quarter, led by a three by Ivy Phillips, and ECC broke into double digits, scoring 10 in the third to extend its lead to 22-17.
The Lady Crusaders scored 10 again in the final frame, and Punxsy just couldn't keep up, managing only nine to fall to ECC.
Reitz was Punxsy's top scorer with eight points, and Horner and Ward followed with four each.
Barnett and Phillips each scored three, and Brooke Stello and Cielo wrapped up the scoring with two each.