Bridgeport girls storm by Buckeye

Playing with some heavy hearts, the Bridgeport girls’ basketball team earned some valuable bonus points as far as the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference standings are concerned Saturday afternoon.

The Class 3-A Lady Bulldogs shook off a slow start in defeating invading Buckeye Local, 48-38, on Frank Baxter Court inside John J. Havlicek Gymnasium.

“One of our assistant coaches (Joelle Johnson) lost her mother recently and we went to the funeral home as a team yesterday (Friday),” Bridgeport head coach Rob Zitzelsberger said. “I think this win was for Joelle and her mother.”

With the victory, Bridgeport bumped above the .500 mark at 6-5 and kept it in the hunt for the fourth, and final, playoff berth. The Bulldogs are locked in a battle with Shenandoah for that coveted spot.

“The girls played today,” Zitzelsberger added. “Buckeye has a quality team and a good coaching staff.”

The Panthers (4-7) grabbed a 12-11 lead after one period thanks to an 8-point effort by 5-11 junior center Kayla Fillipovich.

Lauren Swiger’s inside basket gave the visitors a 20-15 lead with 4:14 left in the first half, but the Bulldogs went on an 8-1 run over the final minutes for a 23-21 edge.

Nicole Smolenak’s left-handed drive down the lane kissed off the glass with just under two minutes showing and gave Bridgeport its first lead (21-20) since it was 6-4.

The Bulldogs used an early surge in the third quarter to bump the margin to 32-21 before Buckeye Local could dent the scoreboard again when Morgan Fedorko knocked down a jumper at the 3:35 mark.

Smolenak, once again, was at the forefront of the attack as she meshed 12 of her game-high 20 points in the stanza, including five in a row after Fedorko’s bucket, as the lead grew to a game-high 14, 37-23.

“We just pulled away there in the third quarter and they (Buckeye) could never catch up,” Zitzelsberger assessed. “We got some really good efforts from Brittany (Higgenbotham), Kaitlyn (Benda) and Nicole.”

Trailing 40-28 after a Higgenbotham basket to start the fourth quarter, Buckeye Local started to mount a rally as Tori Nest and Fillipovich tallied inside baskets to make it a 40-32 reading.

A pair of free throws by Benda and one by Smolenak left Bridgeport with a 43-32 advantage with 5:15 left to play.

Over the course of the next three minutes, the Panthers had whittled the margin to seven, 43-36, on a Brooke Mains triple, but in the process the visitors also shot themselves in the foot with some ill-timed free throw troubles.

“We made a nice run in the fourth quarter, but we went to the line eight times during that stretch when we got to within six, but we only made one,” lamented Buckeye Local head coach Willy Luther. “If we make some free throws … . We did a good job of being aggressive, but we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities. When you are behind, you have to score when the clock isn’t running and we didn’t do that today.”

Backing Smolenak in double digits were Heckathorn, the lone senior, with 13 and Benda with 10. Higgenbotham grabbed 10 rebounds as Bridgeport held a slim, 45-44, edge off the glass. Benda landed nine and freshman Briana Massey seven.

Fillipovich paced Buckeye Local with 16 points, but only six in the second half. Mains donated 11. Fillipovich also snatched a dozen rebounds.

Bridgeport charted 14 turnovers, three less than Buckeye Local.

Buckeye Local returns to Connorville for a Monday Buckeye 8 matchup with Union Local, while Bridgeport is idle until Thursday when Barnesville visits.

Buckeye Local won the JV game, 23-19.

Varsity scoring:

BUCKEYE LOCAL (38) – Fedorko 1 0-2 2; Mains 4 1-4 11; Fillipovich 7 2-4 16; Valuska 0 0-0 0; Nest 1 1-5 3; Balk 1 0-0 2; Swiger 1 0-0 2; Omaits 1 0-0 2; Sindeldecker 0 0-0 0; Totals: 16-50 4-15. BRIDGEPORT (48) – Smolenak 6 7-11 20; Benda 3 3-8 10; Massey 0 0-2 0; Higgenbotham 2 1-2 5; Heckathorn 5 1-4 13; Renzler 0 0-0 0; Millard 0 0-0 0; Totals: 16-45 12-27.

Three-Point Goals: Buckeye Local 2 (Mains 2); Bridgeport 4 (Heckathorn 2, Benda, Smolenak)

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