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Ellwood City snaps Lady Lancers undefeated section streak

Jan. 26—The Ellwood City Lincoln High girls basketball team snapped Neshannock's undefeated streak in the WPIAL Section 1-3A on Thursday.

The Lady Lancers battled back in the fourth quarter to cut Ellwood City's lead to one point, but the Lady Wolverines hung on for a 67-60 road win in league action.

"We talked to them in the locker room like, 'This is a playoff game for you. We want to make playoffs. This is the kind of pressure; this is the kind of team you're going to have to beat,'" Ellwood City coach Dena Noble said. "We had a game plan against them the first time and we didn't execute. We talked about that, too. We needed to execute the game plan and they did that tonight."

Neshannock is now 5-1 in section play and 11-5 overall.

"The more experienced team won tonight," Neshannock coach Luann Grybowski said. "They had to shoot 75, 80 percent in the first half and they didn't miss a shot. We didn't defend. A lot of that's on me. I should have made adjustments earlier and I guess I need to prepare them a little bit more.

"We turned the ball over in the first half extensively and took a little bit better care of the ball in the second half. But, we battled. We battled. That's the beauty of this young group, it's watching them battle. We cut it to one with a minute or something left, we missed a put back there, then gave up a layup here and we had to try and foul."

In the first quarter, the Lady Wolverines (4-2, 12-6) put the defensive pressure on early and forced Neshannock to go for long passes that were ultimately blocked or stolen.

Neshannock's Sophia Bonner nailed three 3-pointers in the first quarter to give her team some life. Bonner posted 16 points for the Lady Lancers.

"She played tremendous," Grybowski said of Bonner. "She's a freshman and is learning and growing. It's not always her job to score, but tonight she did that, she took care of the basketball in crucial situations and she defended. She did a great job in the second half defending as did everybody else. I thought our man-to-man in the second half was really good except for a couple of possessions."

Ellwood City held a 22-15 advantage over Neshannock at the start of the second quarter. Neshannock's Payton Newman netted 11 of her game-high 23 points in the second.

"She did a great job offensively and rebounded offensively," Grybowski said of Newman. "She got a cramp there late and had to come out a little bit. Defensively, she has to get a little bit better, but the offensive end and her intensity in going for the offensive rebounds and attacking the basket was phenomenal."

Ellwood City's response to Newman was Delaney Sturgeon, who posted 12 points in the second quarter.

"Delaney was unbelievable tonight," Noble said. "She was mentally tough tonight. She's been working on trying to be more mentally tough. She's traditionally had good games on this court and I said, 'We need you tonight,' and she said, 'I got this. This is my court,' and she showed it tonight."

Sturgeon paced the Lady Wolverines with 16 points.

"I'm really happy about it," Sturgeon said of the win. "We've been working really hard in practice and we came together as a team. We were really trying to hustle and pick up our defense."

Ellwood City outscored Neshannock, 27-24, in the second quarter to enter halftime with a 49-39 lead.

"We scored 49 points in the first half. That was amazing. We've been working a lot in practice about shooting under pressure and shooting on the run," Noble said. "That first game that we played Neshannock, we missed seven layups in the first quarter. Didn't happen tonight. We hit a lot of layups, they pressured us and we've been working on their press all week. We beat their press and scored layups. That's what it takes."

Grybowski said the talk during halftime was, "They can't possibly shoot the same way in the second half," adding, "We gave up 49 points. That's the most points of my career (given up) in a half. But, it wasn't like one or two people. They had five people scoring and she really didn't sub. She had five people play and that's who played the whole game. All five of them were in double figures."

The Lady Lancers outscored Ellwood City by two points in the third quarter to enter the fourth trailing by eight points.

Noble said the team was a little tense coming out in the second half.

"We knew we had a lead, but we just had to pick up our defense," Noble said. "Yeah, you've got to make some shots. But, really if you have the lead you just have to pick up your defense. We struggled there at times with our defense but we were able to stay on top."

With 2:41 remaining in the game, Bonner sank a layup to make the score 61-60. A bucket from Ellwood City's Kayla Jones put her team up 63-60 and Noble called a timeout.

Ellwood City's Elsie Sturgeon sank the next layup to make the score 65-60 and with 11 seconds left another timeout was called by Noble. Ellwood City regained possession and with 5.1 seconds left Noble called for a timeout again.

"We just said be under control and don't foul," Noble said of the talk during the timeout. "In all honesty, if they make it down the court and shoot it, we still get five seconds to take it out so don't panic."

Elsie Sturgeon regained possession again on a long pass and with less than one second left she sank the layup to help her team walk away with the win.

"That first (bucket) was huge and that second one was just icing on the cake," Noble said of Elsie Sturgeon's final two buckets.

Neshannock will travel to Laurel on Monday. That game is tentatively scheduled for a 6 p.m. start.

"Every game is important," Grybowski said. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given night. I said from the beginning of the year that Ellwood, Beaver Falls and Mohawk should have been the top three teams. They had the most people coming back, they had the most experience and that's who I picked to be in the top. The fact that we competed with everybody and beat everybody the first time around says a lot for this young group. We're by no means going to back down from anybody. We have a job to do and they know their destiny is in their own hands. We have to take care of every game one game at a time."

Ellwood City will host Riverside on Monday with the start time subject to change.