ST. CLAIRSVILLE - St. Clairsville had undefeated Bridgeport on the ropes Wednesday night in girls' high school basketball action.
However, the key word was had.
Trailing by 11 points, the first time the Lady Bulldogs (9-0) had trailed in the second half all season, they reeled off 21 of the final 30 points to escape John Jenkins Court with a cherished, 59-54, triumph over a game Red Devils squad before a boisterous crowd in a playoff atmosphere.
"We're going to get the best from every team we play," Bridgeport head coach Rob Zitzelsberger admitted. "We're the target of every team. St. Clairsville has a nice team and they gave us a run for our money.
"They've got a nice coach and they play hard," he added. "It's tough to lose after being up 11."
Even though the hosts blew the big lead, they still had the game tied at 54 with 61 ticks remaining, but Bridgeport's stellar duo of Caitlin Kroll and Nicole Smolenak combined to tickle the twine eight times down the stretch, including five by Smolenak, the heady senior point guard.
"We shot very well from the (free throw) line," Zitzelsberger noted. "I don't know what it was, but we are led by our seniors and Nicole stepped up to the plate."
Trailing 49-38 with 6:57 left to play, Bridgeport started its comeback as senior Maclaine Murad, who was saddled with foul trouble the entire night, converted back-to-back baskets and Kroll drained a three to quickly make it 49-45.
A Lauren Figura free throw made it 50-45 and set up a controversial call, which resulted in a 5-point play for the Bulldogs and the ball as St. Clairsville head coach Alicia Freeman was assessed a technical.
Smolenak sliced her way to the basket and was fouled as the ball kissed off the glass and fell through the rim. It was ruled she was going up, the basket counted and she went to the line for a possible three-point play.
However, before she could attempt the charity toss, Freeman was whistled for the technical, which gave Smolenak two more attempts. She would knock down all three to deadlock the game at 50.
"I'm not going to think about those last four minutes," Freeman said. "There was 32 minutes in the game and my girls played very, very hard. We just have to be smarter in those last four minutes, and we're working on that. We're growing from it and we will learn from this loss.
"Bridgeport is a good team, but I thought we really played well."
Bridgeport got hot at the right time as it cashed in seven of 10 field goals - including a pair of treys - and the aforementioned eight freebies.
"I told the girls we needed to make things happen," Zitzelsberger said of a timeout speech. "We still need to take good shots, and we did. That shows a lot of composure on the girls' part."
Kroll, who was shut out in the third quarter, finished with a game-high two dozen lightings. She finished strong with 10 in the final frame. Smolenak added 17 markers, while Murad managed eight.
Alexis St. Clair paced a trio of twin-digit Red Devils with 15. Figura added 14 and Carlee Gillespie had 12.
Bridgeport led 40-32 off the glass as Briana Massey claimed game honors with nine. Kroll yanked down seven and charted four steals and two assists. St. Clair and Anna DeFilippo each had eight boards for St. Clairsville.
The Bulldogs also led in turnovers, 14-11.
Bridgeport returned with a sweep as it also claimed the JV game.
The Bulldogs are idle until Monday when they travel to Bellaire.
St. Clairsville, which had a three-game winning streak halted, returns to action tonight at Martins Ferry in a 7 p.m. varsity-only game inside the Tolbert Gymnasium.
BRIDGEPORT (59) - Kroll 7 7-8 24; Murad 3 2-4 8; Smolenak 5 5-6 17; B. Massey 0 0-2 0; Millard 2 0-0 4; Renzler 2 0-0 4; Johnson 1 0-0 2; Totals: 20-51 14-20. ST. CLAIRSVILLE (54) - Mick 2 1-2 7; DeFilippo 3 0-0 6; St. Clair 7 1-1 15; Figura 5 4-7 14; Gillespie 4 2-2 12; Cenkus 0 0-0 0; Totals: 21-52 8-12.
Three-Point Goals: Bridgeport 5 (Kroll 3, Smolenak 2); St. Clairsville 4 (Gillespie 2, Mick 2)