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McDonald up to 5-1 after beating Jackson-Milton

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes McDonald senior Taylor Tuchek, right, and Jackson-Milton senior Camryn Mitchell, left, chase after a loose ball on Thursday.

McDONALD — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause upheaval in our day-to-day lives, the McDonald girls basketball team has gotten back to what it does best. Winning basketball games.

Sure, their season was delayed and they’ve been without their new coach, Tony Matisi, for four out of the six games they’ve played this season. But that hasn’t stopped the Blue Devils from getting off to a 5-1 start after dismantling Jackson-Milton, 61-31, at home on Thursday in a Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference-Scarlet division matchup.

Assistant coach Michael Kollar has been filling in for Matisi in his absence.

“Coach Matisi has been pretty sick in the hospital with COVID,” Kollar said. “We’ve coached for a while together. He’s recovering.”

The Blue Devils were coming off of a huge challenge. They faced the talented Warren G. Harding Raiders on Monday. After falling behind big early, McDonald came back to make it a game and suffered its first setback, 47-38.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes McDonald senior Maddy Howard, left, shoots while Jackson-Milton’s Kelsie Taylor (21) plays defense during the second half Thursday.

“Our start was kind of slow tonight,” Kollar said. “We were coming off of a big game against Harding. We fell down, 16-0, against them and came back to cut it to a 3-point deficit. I think we had a little bit of a lag after that to start against Jackson-Milton. We got it going in the second quarter. By the end of the game, we were feeling alright.”

It was indeed a slow start, as Jackson-Milton (7-5) led, 4-1, with 4 minutes left in the first quarter. Sophia Costantino (11 points) got McDonald going with one from downtown. She pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back up and in. Paige Grope had a nice take for Jackson-Milton, but McDonald led, 13-6, after one quarter.

“We played a very good team tonight,” Jackson-Milton coach Pat Keney said. “They have a lot of senior leadership. We came out in the first quarter and gave them a pretty good game. Then we started playing like a young team. We’re young. We have to get used to playing together and clean some stuff up.”

McDonald’s impressive duo of Molly Howard and Maddy Howard took turns dominating the game in the second and third quarters. Molly Howard (game-high 16 points) began the second with a steal and a lay-up.

Kylie Wilson (team-high 11 points) swished a 3-pointer for the Blue Jays, but Costantino’s nifty reverse lay-up gave McDonald a 35-16 halftime advantage.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Jackson-Milton freshman Ava Darney hauls down an offensive rebound early in the second half at McDonald.

Maddy Howard (14 points) started the second half by scoring underneath the basket twice. She then took her game outside and canned a 3 from the corner. Ava Darney scored just before the buzzer for the Blue Jays, but McDonald led, 49-22, heading to the fourth.

Lucy Wolford dribbled behind her back and dropped a jumper for the Devils. Carley Stitt, Taylor Tuchek, and Emily Pratt kept up the pressure for McDonald. And senior Brooke Lewis was all over the boards. Lewis pulled down one big rebound after another, including on the offensive side, to help close out the victory.

“We struggled a little bit in the first half,” Lewis said. “After halftime, we realized what we were doing wrong. We corrected our mistakes. Halftime helped a lot. It was a good win even though it wasn’t our most impressive performance.

“Since we lost almost a month of our season because of COVID, we packed our schedule with a lot of tough teams to help us prepare for the tournament. We expect to get back to the regionals again this year.”

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