For the second consecutive season, Bridgeport has stunned the Division IV girls' basketball sectional tournament field in the opening round.
Thursday night at 'The Hangar' in Morristown, the Lady Bulldogs (10-11) knocked off favored Beallsville (15-6) by a 36-33 count to advance to the co-sectional final next Wednesday, also at the Union Local High School facility.
Last year, Bridgeport upended St. John Central in the post-season opener.
Bridgeport’s Tiffany Heckathorn (3) dribbles around Beallsville’s Allie Campbell during action from their Division IV?sectional basketball tournament action Thursday night in Morristown. The Lady Bulldogs prevailed, 36-33.
There, Rob Zitzelsberger's young squad will meet River (11-10) which ousted St. John Central (12-9) by a 47-38 margin in the nightcap.
IN the opener, Bridgeport reeled off the first 10 points of the second half to take a lead it would never relinquish.
"I told the girls in practice Wednesday that someone was going to be a hero," Zitzelsberger said. "We knew that they (Beallsville) would try and take away Nicole (Smolenak), but everyone stepped up tonight. Everyone did what they were supposed to do. It was a total team effort in every sense of the word."
Deadlocked at 17 at the halftime break, the Bulldogs started the third quarter on the prowl as Tiffany Heckathorn, the team's lone senior who lost a contact lens early in the first half, drained a three-pointer. Brittany Higgenbotham then banked home two more points and Keri Renzler, making just her second varsity start, knocked down back-to-back buckets, the first being a trey and the second giving the designated visitors a commanding, 27-17, advantage with 3:18 on the clock.
"Keri hit two big shots there," Zitzelsberger noted of his 5-5 freshman. "She struggled early on, but she kept at it."
The Blue Devils, who struggled down the stretch and finished the season with a trio of consecutive setbacks, misfired on their first seven shots in the third panel and didn't connect until Mikaela Headley rolled one around the rim that dropped.
"We didn't shoot the ball very well at all," Beallsville head coach Rick Jarrett allowed. "We were cold the entire night."
Indeed they were. The Big Blue only tickled the twine on 11 of its 55 shots from the floor.
"I really don't know what to say," Jarrett added. "We couldn't make anything and it seemed like everything they (Bridgeport) threw up went in."
Not exactly as the Bulldogs were a mere 12 of 41 from the floor, but cashed in seven bonus bombs.
"We didn't shoot the ball very well again, but we're in the co-finals," Zitzelsberger said with a huge smile.
Nicole Smolenak led all scorers in the game with a dozen points, one more than Heckathorn. They combined for five of the shots made from behind the arc. Renzler had eight points and a like number of boards.
Julie Bilyeu paced Beallsville with a double-double. The 6-0 senior scored 10 points and pulled down a game-high 13 boards.
Bridgeport led 30-23 after three periods, but Beallsville didn't roll over. The Big Blue slowly, but surely, sliced into the deficit, making it 36-33 with 25.9 ticks remaining on a Allie Campbell three-pointer.
Then, after Bridgeport missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 4.7 seconds left, Beallsville quickly pushed the ball upcourt, but Kaylee Gallaher's chance at tying it bounced off the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
IN the nightcap, the Lady Pilots snapped an early tie and never trailed thereafter in dispatching the Irish ladies.
Cassidy McCullough netted eight of her team-high 15 points in the opening quarter as the designated hosts held a 15-10 lead after the initial eight minutes.
"Cassidy really got us going," River head coach Rick Isaly declared. "She's a really good player who hustles all the time."
River extended its lead to 27-18 at the half and 41-25 after three periods before St. John Central made a run.
"We went through the motions for three quarters," said veteran St. John Central head coach Robert "Bubba" Kapral. "We changed up our defense and went to a fullcourt press which got us a couple of baskets."
The Lady Irish pulled to within nine twice, but could get no closer.
"This is a good win for us," Isaly said after playing in the D-III sectional last season.
Aiding McCullough in double figures was Laken Ramsay with 10 points. Emilee Weaver and Leslie Young evenly divided 14. McCullough completed her double-double with 13 rebounds as the Pilots claimed a 40-34 edge off the glass.
Rosa Young capped her prep court career with a team-high 15 points and five steals. Kristen Russell chipped in seven points and seven rebounds.
St. John Central was also guilty of 18 turnovers, five more than River.
"We said going into the game that we had to do two things," Kapral added. "That was get some rebounds, which we didn't do a good job of, and take care of the basketball, which we didn't do either."
Bridgeport and River have met twice this season, with the Pilots winning both times. Their game will tip at approximately 8 p.m., following the Shadyside-Barnesville tussle at 6 o'clock.
BRIDGEPORT (36) - Heckathorn 4 0-0 11; Massey 0 0-0 0; Smolenak 4 2-2 12; Renzler 2 3-4 8; Higgenbotham 1 0-0 2; Benda 1 0-0 3; Millard 0 0-0 0; Totals: 12-41 5-6.
BEALLSVILLE (33) - Headley 3 2-4 8; Campbell 2 0-0 6; Stephen 2 0-2 6; Kinney 0 1-2 1; Bilyeu 3 4-6 10; Gallaher 1 0-0 2; Totals: 11-55 7-14.
Three-Point Goals: Bridgeport 7 (Heckathorn 3, Smolenak 2, Renzler, Benda); Beallsville 4 (Campbell 2, Stephen 2)
ST. JOHN CENTRAL (38) - Young 5 1-3 15; Coppa 3 0-0 6; Decoy 2 0-0 4; Russell 3 1-1 7; Murad 2 1-2 6; Knox 0 0-0 0; Dobrovich 0 0-0 0; Totals: 15-48 3-6. RIVER (47) - Lak. Ramsay 2 6-8 10; Dierkes 1 0-0 2; Weaver 3 1-2 7; McCullough 7 1-3 15; Young 3 1-2 7; Bowers 2 0-0 4; Jones 0 0-0 0; Lan. Ramsay 0 2-4 2; Goudy 0 0-0 0; Totals: 18-47 11-19.
Three-Point Goals: St. John Central 5 (Young 4, Murad)
North can be reached at email@example.com