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Bristol girls handle McDonald, 60-50

Correspondent photo/Robert Hayes. Bristol senior Belle Zirzow leads the pack down the court in the fast break situation during the Panthers' 60-50 road win at McDonald Saturday evening. Zirzow led all scorers with 26 points.

McDONALD — For as far back as Bristol senior Belle Zirzow and sophomore Payton Brook can remember, they’ve been friends on and off the court.

Whether it was basketball camps, family connections, or being apart of the same team, the duo of Panthers have been each other’s side, as Bristol moves through the early part of their slate, something that Trumbull Country lacked last winter due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing most teams to start in January.

A second half surge led by the pair helped guide the Panthers past McDonald on the road, by a final score of 60-50, improving their overall record to 3-0.

“This was a great win for the girls. I know they were excited for a chance to play McDonald, they didn’t get to see them last year,” Bristol coach John King said. “The tradition here, the program that they have here, it’s well respected, our girls respected it, and looked forward to this opportunity.”

Leading 27-22 at halftime, the Panthers looked to build on their lead after a slew of missed layups during the first half, but the Blue Devils (2-1) made up ground quickly after freshman Gianna Costantino made a fadeaway jumper, then senior Riley Matig scored off a steal to cut it to 27-26.

Bristol (3-0) would then kick off a 12-2 run after Brook nailed a pair of free throws, capped off with a made shot by Zirzow to make it a 39-28 contest midway though the third frame. Up 44-34, Zirzow tallied six points on three consecutive field goals, eventually guiding her team to a 50-38 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

The Panthers’ ability to score in the post, with Zirzow recording a game-high 26 points, along with success at the charity stripe in the second half gave Bristol the breathing room they needed. Brook tallied 11 points, with Jaylyn Mullenax and Alexis Shafer each adding eight.

“Even in half court, you’re not going to get as many points as you shoud when you’re in transition,” Zirzow said. “We run transition everyday in practice, we’re constantly moving, constantly running, and it really showed tonight.

“Having our guards being able to pass the ball in and everything really helps, and us being able to finish and be strong with it, at practice we definitely worked getting ready for them, and being strong in the post.”

Brook has just recently moved into the Bristol School District this year, but her ties to Zirzow and her other teammates allowed the sophomore to quickly feel at home, building a team chemistry that reflects its 3-0 mark.

“Just knowing that if I do make a mistake or a turnover, that all of them are going to come back and they’re going to say, it’s okay, just do better next time, you’re good,” Brook said. “If you come out here and you work, your minutes will show on the court, and the scoreboard will show how hard you’ve worked as a team together.

“We have worked so hard in the summer, we are constantly going to Mount Union, just crazy stuff that a lot of teams around here don’t do, so it really shows on the scoreboard, all the extra work that we put in outside of the season.”

McDonald lost seven seniors from last year’s team, and found itself in the process of tuning lineups and grinding out experience for many players who haven’t played the varsity game.

For coach Tony Matisi, teaching the players the game of basketball is what makes the job enjoyable.

“We only have one girl with varsity experience, so it’s a work in progress for us, we’re learning, not so much young, but no varsity experience is the key,” Matisi said. “The varsity game is much faster than the JV game, sometimes people don’t notice that, but it really is.

“That’s why you love it, you love to teach kids the game, watch them get better, making progressions, that’s why we do this as coaches, we’re just trying to get better every game.”

Junior Alivia Morrison scored a team-high 19 points, following behind her is senior Lucia Wolford with 16, fellow senior Lea Gabrelcik adding seven.

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