AUSTINTOWN – Sometimes problems aren’t as bad as they may seem.
Really, they aren’t. Just ask the Struthers Wildcats girls’ basketball team, which couldn’t do anything right in trailing the Lakeview Bulldogs 14-1 midway through the first quarter.
The Wildcats didn’t hyperventilate. Instead, they calmly proceeded to pull off one of the best 180s of the season, outscoring the top-seeded Bulldogs by 27 points the rest of the way for a 53-39 win Monday in a semifinal of the Austintown Division II district tournament.
“Honestly, the girls told me I coached the first quarter and they took over after that,” smiling Wildcats coach John Grandy said. “I thought our kids settled down. At halftime we were down two, but I knew we were in a good spot. Even though we were down two, we let a great player (Alli Pavlik) score a bucket to put them up.”
Grandy was referring to the layup Pavlik made just before the halftime buzzer that gave the Bulldogs (22-3) a 26-24 lead. There was feeling that the 23-12 run made by the third-seeded Wildcats (19-5) leading into intermission might carry over into the second half.
That’s exactly what happened. Tired and not able to match the Wildcats’ balanced scoring and 3-point accuracy, the Bulldogs limped to the finish line. There was little left in the tank when Lakeview entered the fourth period trailing 40-34, which was evident when it took most of the period before Abby Pavlik scored the first points of the quarter to cut into a 50-34 Struthers’ lead.
“What happened in that first quarter was we put everything out there, and we were just drained,” said Alli Pavlik, who scored 18 points. “We went up and down that first 8 minutes, and it took everything out of us.
“I think in the halfcourt offense they were more patient than us. They moved the ball around. I have to give them credit for that because they held for a good shot. We’re not that patient. We want to go up and down constantly.”
Bulldogs coach Adam Lewis tried to stop the bleeding, but there was no magical button to push. Making matters worse were the six 3-point shots made by Struthers, including three in a 16-point effort by McKenna Shives.
“They played 32 minutes and we played about 12 minutes,” Lewis said. “We fell apart. Mentally we started to get scared as we lost that lead. I have to give Struthers credit. They played a very good game.”
Ashleigh Ryan led the Wildcats with 19 points. Caitlin Kane added 12. The three combined to score 12 of the 15 straight points that gave Struthers a 56-34 advantage.
The game marked the end of a fantastic career for Alli Pavlik, who will play in the Bubba Classic all-star game. Not getting back to the district final for a second straight season was difficult to take.
“Tournament time is tough for seniors because going down by that much, it’s hard to pick yourself up,” Alli Pavlik said. “Seniors, all you see is that light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s over. We kept trying, but I think we were defeated a little bit too early.”
The accomplishments of the season will probably sink in after a few days of reflection for the Bulldogs.
“I’m very proud of this team,” Lewis said. “It’s a special group to me. They’ve done things that no Lakeview team has done in a long time.”
Struthers will play the winner of tonight’s West Branch-Ravenna game Friday at 7 p.m. for the district title.