UTICA — What was expected to be a battle of two of the top teams in the Mid-Buckeye Conference was just that Saturday.
A strong third quarter helped Loudonville build a lead, then the Redbirds were able to survive a furious fourth-quarter comeback attempt by Utica to grab a 60-56 victory in girls basketball action at Utica.
“We’ve never won at Utica before,” said Loudonville coach Joy Taylor. “We knew going into the fourth quarter it was going to be a fight. Utica’s a good, undefeated team and they definitely don’t want to lose at home.
“Those are real fun games to watch and I’m really proud of the girls for handling it and making pretty much the right choices in all the situations.”
The teams traded baskets throughout most of the first half as the biggest lead was Utica’s five in the opening minute of the game. Jordan Morrow hit a basket and Bridget Davis a 3 in the opening minute for the Redskins (4-1 overall, 2-1 MBC).
But, Loudonville (5-0, 3-0) answered with three straight buckets, including a 3 from last year’s conference player of the year, Becky Orchard.
From there, they traded buckets with Loudonville taking a slim 29-27 lead into the locker room.
Loudonville sophomore Alexis Van Horn caught fire in the second half, and pulled the Redbirds along as they grabbed an eight-point lead in the third quarter. Van Horn scored 21 of her game-high 29 points in the second half to spark the Redbirds.
“Alexis really stepped up and hit some big shots. This is her second great game in a row. I think she’s playing really mature as a sophomore,” said Taylor. “Her defense has gotten a lot better. She has really worked hard on defense. I’m happy with her play on defense and her rebounding. She’s done a really nice job and it was nice to see that offense from her.”
Utica wasn’t done, though.
The Redskins went on a seven-point run midway through the fourth quarter to pull within two (52-50).
“I think the momentum shifted quarter to quarter. Sometimes we’d go on a run, sometimes they’d go on a run. We had a mini-run there late, but just ran out of time,” said Utica coach Michelle Snow.
Van Horn stepped up for the Redbirds and ended any chance for Utica at the end of the game. The sophomore hit a big 3-pointer with less than three minutes remaining, then canned several free throws to ice it.
The taller Loudonville squad used an active zone defense to help shut down the vaunted Utica offense for most of the game. The Redskins hit on just 21 of 61 shots, including 10 of 27 from beyond the 3-point arc, on the day.
“They did a nice job with their zone defense,” Snow said. “I thought we did a nice job working the ball around, we just couldn’t knock down the crucial one.”
“Our guards are big and long. They get their hands on a lot of passes that seem open,” Taylor said. “That was an advantage we talked about. Our guards are bigger than their guards. We thought that would be an advantage on both ends.”
Van Horn also pulled down six rebounds to go along with her game-high 29 points for the Redbirds. She hit on 11 of her 15 shots from the field. Orchard added 11 points, while Courtney Ryan had eight points and a team-high eight rebounds. Felicia Baker added eight points and six rebounds.
Utica was led by Abbie Corbett, who hit four 3-pointers on her way to 17 points. She also handed out eight assists. Tamra Londot had a monster game inside, scoring 14 points and pulling down a game-high 17 rebounds. Davis added 10 points.
The teams return to action Thursday, Loudonville hosting East Knox and Utica traveling to Fredericktown.
Utica won the junior varsity contest, 35-27. Lareese Marston led the Redskins with 11 points. Kaylee Gorius added 10 points and Noley Kryling had eight.
Loudonville got six points each from Christina Clady, Miranda Stake and Alex Stoudt.