When it comes to girls' basketball games in the Ohio Valley, you'd be hard pressed to find one better than the one that unfolded Wednesday evening inside the John J. Havlicek Gymnasium at Bridgeport High School.
Third-seeded Shadyside and second-seeded Bridgeport treated the huge crowd to a dandy.
In the end, however, the deep shooting of talented Lady Tiger senior Karli Bonar proved to be too much for the Lady Bulldogs to overcome as Shadyside punched its ticket to its fourth straight Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls Basketball Championship game with a 52-49 victory.
SHADYSIDE’S KARLI Bonar (22) eyes the basket as she drives past Bridgeport’s Maclaine Murad during action Wednesday night inside the John J. Havlicek Gymnasium. The Lady Tigers prevailed and Bonar became the all-time leader in made three-point goals in state history.
"I said when they first started this tournament that it was a great idea because it gave you a tournament atmosphere before the actual sectional tournament begins and tonight was definitely a great atmosphere," said Shadyside head coach Tina Yates. "We're excited to get out of here with a win. Bridgeport's a really quality team that gave us all we wanted. We were fortunate to just make a few more shots."
Next up for the Lady Tigers (14-7) is a date with top-seeded Wheeling Central in a rematch of last season's 2A title game, which was won by the Lady Maroon Knights. Tip-off is slated for 10 a.m. Saturday at Ohio University Eastern.
"It's pretty exciting to have a chance to avenge last year's loss," Yates said. "We've got to get back to work. They're a good team, but so are we. I know Central will show up and play, so we have to match them and go do our thing."
Bridgeport, meanwhile, suffered just its second loss of the regular season in 21 outings. The Lady Bulldogs will make a trip to Clay-Battelle a date to be determined next week for the consolation game of the 2A tournament.
"Everybody made fun of our schedule, but we were 19-1 with the same schedule we've played for the three years I've been here," said Bridgeport head coach Rob Zitzelsberger. "I think we earned a lot of respect here tonight. Shadyside has a great program, great coach and a couple of great players. We left it all on the floor tonight. I am proud of the girls and I hope everyone else is, too."
The Lady Bulldogs actually defended Bonar pretty well for the most part. They challenged her shots and forced her well behind the arc.
As it turns out, they played right into the senior sharpshooter's hands. Bonar buried seven triples, finished with 28 points and, in the process, became the state of Ohio's all-time leading 3-point shooter for her career.
"Our whole team has been talking a little bit about that record," Yates said. "It's a big relief for Karli to get that record out of the way now. It's just quite an accomplishment. I just hope she keeps shooting them like that," Yates smiled.
Bonar needed four bonus baskets entering the game and connected on the record-breaker at the 6:52 mark of the third quarter. She ended the third-quarter with a triple from the left corner, which put her ahead of the boys' record as well.
"I never play for me or any records," Bonar said. "I play to win and the fact that (the record) came in a win makes it special. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the record at all had we lost."
The University of Findlay-bound sniper opened the fourth with another bomb, giving the Lady Tigers a 42-38 upperhand.
Bridgeport, however, roared back with seven straight points, including a triple by junior ace Nicole Smolenak, which put the Lady Bulldogs up by three.
The lead was short-lived. Shadyside answered back with a conventional three-point play from senior Kristen Fijalkowski.
Senior Maclaine Murad put Bridgeport back on top with a bucket on the next trip. Again, Shadyside answered. This time, Bonar put the ball on the deck and blew by the Lady Bulldogs' defense for a layup.
Bridgeport turned it over and Bonar made them pay with her final bonus goal, making it 50-47.
Talented Bridgeport frosh Caitlyn Kroll meshed two at the line, getting her team back within one. However, Shadyside was able to run off nearly 40 seconds before Bridgeport caught the Lady Tigers for a foul, which was just their sixth.
After a few more seconds ran off, Shadyside senior Hayley Holenka cashed in two foul shots, making it 52-49.
"I told the girls it would be a one-possession game," Zitzelsberger said. "We thought we could win. We wanted to prove to everyone. We didn't get the one-seed (in the sectional) because they had the best schedule and that's never happened in the eternity. The best team always got the number one seed. I thought we proved we could play with them. They played a lot of D-I teams and we played a lot of D-IV, but I am proud of our girls."
Bridgeport threw a baseball pass to halfcourt and the ball was deflected out of bounds off a Lady Tiger. The Lady Bulldogs then in-bounded, got a great look from WNBA range, but the shot rimmed out.
"It looked good when it left her hand," Yates said. "I was wondering why we went for a steal there, but maybe it worked out cause we could have fouled her."
Bonar's scoring was complemented by Holenka, who finished with 10. Kenzi Fielding added eight points.
Bridgeport was well balanced. Smolenak had 23 to lead the way. Kroll added 14 points and 10 boards. Murad finished with nine tallies.
Shadyside made it a clean sweep with a victory in the reserve game.
SHADYSIDE (52) - Bonar 9, 3-5 28; Holenka 4, 2-2 10; Fijalkowski 1, 1-1 3; Fielding 4, 0-2 8; Andes 1, 0-0 3; Johnson 0, 0-0 0; Totals: 20, 6-10 52. BRIDGEPORT (49) - Smolenak 7, 7-11 23; Benda 1, 0-0 3; Murad 3, 2-2 9; Kroll 4, 4-6 14; Higgenbotham 0, 0-0 0; Massey 0, 0-0 0; Renzler 0, 0-0 0; Totals: 15, 13-19 49.
Three-Point Goals: S - Bonar (7), Andes. B - Smolenak (2), Benda, Kroll (2).