DANVILLE — Two of the top teams in the Mid-Buckeye Conference squared off in Danville on Thursday night. The host Blue Devils gave the Utica Redskins a run for their money, but in the end, the Redskins took home a 65-54 victory in girls basketball action.
“Anytime you play a conference game, it is going to be a battle, and Danville played hard; we knew they would. We knew it would be a physical game. It was everything we expected. I’m just happy to get out of here with a win,” said Utica coach Michelle Snow. “I thought our kids responded and adjusted well.”
Utica (8-1, 6-1 MBC), which led by 12 at halftime and by as much as 14 in the third quarter, watched a 48-39 third-quarter lead evaporate in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter. Danville (7-5, 4-3 MBC) scored nine straight points to pull within two, 50-48, but could never get over the hump, and Utica pulled away with a couple of steals-turned-buckets and shots from the free-throw line.
“This is really tough because our goal is to win a league championship,” said Danville coach Christian Toombs. “Right now, this loss puts us three games down in the league, which is going to make it tough. We felt like we could compete with Utica, but we didn’t do that in the first half. In the second half, we played the way we are capable of playing.”
Olivia Rice started the game on fire for Danville, scoring the first five Blue Devil points. A jumper by Katelyn Walls with 4:01 to go in the first quarter put Danville ahead, 7-5, but Utica was just warming up. The Redskins, playing pressure defense, went on a 16-5 run, seeing five different players score, and opened up a 21-12 lead with 19 seconds left. A jumper by Danville’s Ashlee Townsend made it a seven-point lead after one quarter.
“We turned the basketball over a few times, and that is to be expected,” Toombs said. “The other thing is, at that time, they stepped up. You’ve got to give credit to Utica; they did a very good job of pressuring us and caused us turnovers.”
Utica kept it up in the second quarter, scoring the first six points. Myranda Wolfe stepped up with a 3-pointer and a putback to help fuel the spurt and open a 27-14 advantage. Danville answered in the form of senior Hannah Matheny. Matheny outscored Utica, 6-2, over the next four minutes to make it a 29-20 game with 2:44 to go, but the Redskins closed the quarter with a 9-6 advantage, including seven points from senior Jordan Morrow, and took a 38-26 lead into the locker room. Matheny added two more buckets in the final minute and a half, and finished 17 points in the game.
Morrow, who scored a career-high 17 points, hit an opening jumper off a pass from Abbie Corbett to stretch Utica’s lead to 14 at the start of the third quarter. Danville answered with a jumper from Matheny and four points from Aubrey Hazen to immediately cut the lead back to eight, 40-32. A couple of buckets by Wolfe, however, helped extend the lead back out to 14 with 2:14 to go. Rice hit a 3-pointer with 1:24 left to cut the lead to nine, and two free throws by Hazen, who was scoreless in the first half, made it a 46-39 lead with 27 seconds left. A jumper by Wolfe in the closing second put Utica ahead by nine after three.
Wolfe added a pair of free throws to start the fourth quarter, but that’s when Danville stepped up. The Blue Devils changed the defense around and Utica responded by turning the ball over four straight times. That was the break Danville needed, and it went on a 9-0 run to pull within two, 50-48.
“I thought what got us back into the basketball game in the second half was our adjustments at halftime,” Toombs said. “We came out in the zone and really extended the zone, pressuring the ball up top. We got a couple of turnovers that way and really almost matched up with them.”
Hazen scored off a pass from Townsend, and then Walls picked Utica and laid it in on the other end. Kaleigh Conner hit a jumper, her only points of the night, before Walls took a pass and nailed a 3-pointer with 6:09 to play to pull Danville back into the game.
“The one thing we couldn’t do was panic,” said Snow. “I called a timeout to try and calm us down. It was all about regrouping and making sure we didn’t go into panic mode. We needed to pick up our defensive intensity a little bit.”
It looked like Danville might overtake the Redskins, but the well went dry and the Blue Devils didn’t score again for another three minutes. Utica, meanwhile, struggled with several free-throw opportunities, which allowed Danville to hang around as time wound down. Fouls began to pile up for the Blue Devils, however, and that gave Utica enough chances to put the game away. The Redskins finished 20-of-36 from the free-throw line.
“This is disappointing because we play physical; that’s how we play,” said Toombs. “We’ve got to understand that we can play that way without grabbing people and getting little fouls. We had three starters on the bench at the end of the game because of fouling out.”
Wolfe, a sophomore, finished with a career-high 20 points to lead Utica, and added six rebounds and four steals. Morrow also had five steals; Corbett added 13 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and five assists; Mary Lugar had four points and nine rebounds; and Tamra Londot finished with seven points, 15 rebounds, three steals and three assists.
“Jordan really played well; she gave us some big minutes,” Snow said, referring to Morrow. “We were playing without Bridget Davis tonight, who was at home sick. Hopefully we will get her back for Saturday, but we challenged the team before the game to pick up what she gives us every game. She is scoring around 10 points a game and averaging six or seven rebounds a game, so the challenge was to all of them. I thought they did a great job with that.”
In addition to her points, Matheny had eight rebounds and five steals for Danville. Hazen had 10 points, 10 rebounds and three steals; Rice finished with 14 points and six rebounds; and Walls had seven points. Townsend added four assists.
In reserve action, Utica cruised to a 60-16 victory over Danville. Kalee Gorius scored 13 to lead Utica (7-2), and Noley Kryling had nine points. For Danville (0-7), Ashley Didinger had eight points, and Schae Frazee scored four points.