JOHNSONBURG – In a tale of two halves Friday night, Elk County Catholic (13-2) pulled off a double-whammy by clinching the Allegheny Mountain League [AML] North Division and halting a 7-game winning streak by Johnsonburg (9-6) with a 52-29 road win.
The Lady Crusaders were fueled by Kristy Hanes' double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, including seven straight points in 34 seconds in the fourth quarter that put the game away for good. Hanes scored 11 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter during a 2-minute stretch to secure the game.
"I don't usually bring out any names but Kristy Hanes was really good [Friday]," ECC head girls varsity basketball coach Ken Pistner said. "[Johnsonburg] played a diamond-and-1 [defense] the whole first half but [Hanes] didn't force anything, she let the game come to her. She did a really nice job."
The Ramettes started the fourth quarter down by 12 points but quickly jumped back into the contest as Johnsonburg rattled off five straight points thanks to layups from Chelsea Benson and Brittany Watts, and a free throw from Rhianon Fowler. The spurt cut the lead to 29-22 with seven minutes to go before ECC ignited Johnsonburg's defense.
Lexie Meholic hit her second 3-pointer of the night to restore the lead to double digits before Hanes took advantage of multiple Ramette turnovers; Hanes ended up with a loose ball and put in a layup for a 34-22 lead and just 13 seconds later added another for a 14-point advantage.
Hanes was then fouled after another Johnsonburg turnover and drained both tries for a 38-22 lead, scoring seven points in 34 seconds and restoring order.
"That's all turnovers," Johnsonburg head girls basketball coach Mike Zilkofski said. "We're forcing the ball up the court and I always tell our players that in order to beat the press you have to pass, you can't just dribble the ball up the court.
"We weren't patient in the backcourt either. We forced it up, turned it over, and [ECC] scored off it. We have to do better than that if we're going to beat the better teams."
A 3-pointer from Hanes with 4:31 on the board upped the lead to 45-24 as ECC cruised to a 52-29 win.
Despite the huge gap, the early part of the game seemed to indicate the score would not feature any high score whatsoever.
The first quarter ended with an 8-6 ECC lead as both defenses battled to out-do the other. However, a familiar bug bit the Ramettes as the home team missed all three free throw tries in the first quarter and stumbled to a 4-for-13 showing at the charity stripe in the first half.
"It started off intense and we would've been in it had we not made just nine out of 25 from the foul line [for the game]," Zilkofski said. "That won't help matters much. We missed so many in the first half but we lost to a good team. "
Hanes opened the second quarter with a second effort layup of an offensive rebound for a 4-point lead and later replicated the effort to double up Johnsonburg, 12-6.
Fowler and Kiana Myers battled back for the Ramettes with consecutive layups to cut the margin back to two points but a Morgan Onink jumper put the lead back to four points.
After Benson hit one free throw, Macy Neureiter banked a 3-pointer off the glass to extend the visitors' lead to 17-11. A shot from Kassa Kocjancic cut the margin to four points again as ECC came up empty-handed on their next two offensive possessions.
Meanwhile, the Ramettes were fouled on their next two trips down the floor but only came away with one free throw to show for it. A 3-pointer from Meholic, who finished with two downtown shots on an 11-point night, gave ECC a 20-14 advantage with 2:18 to play. Myers and Onink traded pairs of free throws down the stretch but Benson's trip to the stripe with 38 seconds to go was fruitless.
"These kind of games need to be closer," Zilkofski said. "We missed too many foul shots and turned the ball over too many times. It's just missed opportunities."
While Johnsonburg was outscored 14-10 in the second quarter, ECC held only a 22-16 lead at halftime, far from comfortable.
Pistner indicated that turnovers were the guilty culprit in terms of keeping the game close early on.
"We had a lot of turnovers in the first half and it wasn't really a big pressure defense, it just seemed like we were sleepwalking there for a while," Pistner said. "We played much better on offense in the second half but our defense was solid for most of the game.
"We got [Johnsonburg] to the foul line too much in the first half and I think we were being a little bit too anxious out there in the first half, and not playing sound defense. We shored that up in the second half and got a lot of contributions by a lot of people."
The first five minutes of the third quarter yielded zero points before ECC finally broke through with a short shot in the paint from Taylor DaCanal for a 24-16 point lead with 3:18 to go. The shot seemed to ice the Ramettes as Neureiter followed with a layup and Julia Sweeney added a lengthy jumper for a 12-point cushion. Fowler was able to add a free throw down the stretch as the Ramettes were outscored 7-1 in the third period. ECC had a 29-17 lead at the end of three quarters before Hanes' 11-point fourth quarter outburst capped the night.
Johnsonburg came into the game with a 7-game winning streak but the closest they came to leading the game was a 4-4 tie with 2:34 remaining in the first quarter.
"You have to come in and match the other team's intensity," Pistner said. "We were coming off a hard loss where we played a really good game the other night [a 47-43 loss Jan. 25 at home against undefeated Bradford] but we came off the short end.
"We had to fight off not having a little bit of a letdown because we knew Johnsonburg was playing really well. I wasn't surprised by how close this game was in the first half at all. We're a good defensive team but offensively, sometimes we're not putting the ball in the hoop."
Johnsonburg will travel Monday for an away game at Kane (12-5) while ECC hosts Sheffield (2-14) Monday night. The Lady Crusaders have a host of difficult games down the stretch with DuBois, Punxsutawney and St. Marys on the schedule before a rematch Feb. 14 at undefeated Bradford.
"We have a big stretch coming up with some quality opponents and we had a tough week this week as well playing at Kane, at Johnsonburg, and Bradford as well," Pistner said. "We won two of the three and we played pretty well in the one we lost. We're happy with this week."