Bridgeport drops first game of season

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Timing has been said to be everything.

Well, unfortunately for Bridgeport, it picked the wrong time to play, perhaps, its worst game of the season late Saturday night.

The state-ranked and top-seeded Lady Bulldogs (20-1) saw their perfect season go by the boards with a 46-44 loss to third-seeded Frontier (16-4) in the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls Basketball Championships Class 2A final before a boisterous crowd inside the Health and Physical Education Center on the campus of Ohio University Eastern just west of St. Clairsville.

“Obviously, we didn’t play our best tonight,” Bridgeport head coach Rob Zitzelsberger admitted. “For 20 games we’ve been blessed to give our best outing, tonight we didn’t do that. You can tell just by looking at our free throws. We shot 7 of 13 and usually we shoot 75-76 percent.

“I’m proud of my girls,” he continued. “Twenty wins is nothing to be ashamed of. There’s more important things in life than one basketball game. It’s not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up. You’ve got to have that fire in your belly to win again.”

Frontier, which claimed its first-ever OVAC girls basketball championship, jumped out to an 8-0 lead and never looked back in leading 17-10 after one period and 25-22 at the half.

“This feels really good,” Frontier head coach Scott Murphy exclaimed. “OVAC Class 2A champions has a nice ring to it. “This team has been tested the last few weeks in a couple of different ways, but they’ve responded each time.”

Bridgeport, which was ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press Division IV poll, trailed by nine entering the final 8-minute quarter. Behind Caitlyn Kroll, Nicole Smolenak and Maclaine Murad, the Bulldogs slowly, but surely, started creeping closer and closer to the Cougars.

After Frontier missed the front end of back-to-back bonus situations inside a minute remaining, Murad meshed a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 43-42 with 34 seconds showing.

“The only thing that made me sweat a little bit was the two free throws we missed there late,” Murphy allowed.

Corisa Fickiesen hit the front end of a 1-and-1 11 ticks later to make it 44-42, but Kroll deadlocked things for the first time with two free throws at the 13.4-second mark.

Murphy called a timeout to setup his last-second strategy, which was simple.

“Attack the basket,” he said. “Attack the basket.”

Fickiesen did just that. Taking the inbounds pass and avoiding a couple of Bridgeport defenders, she dribbled across the halfcourt stripe and down the right side of the lane where she softly kissed the ball off the glass and through the net for a 46-44 edge.

Bridgeport immediately called timeout, but Kroll’s shot from about 25 foot was just off the mark.

“The game didn’t come down to the last shot,” Zitzelsberger said in defense of his sophomore standout. “We lost the game early on.

“But to these girls’ credit, they fought back and showed some character,” he added.

Kelsea Daugherty, the Cougars’ 5-10 senior center, had a double-double (13 pts., 10 reb.) to lead the winners. Sophomore point guard Jenna Maston added a dozen points while handing out four assists. Fickiesen finished with nine points.

Murad, who reached the 1,000-point plateau for her career early in the game, had 19 points to pace the Bulldogs. Kroll added 10 points, five rebounds, two steals and a pair of assists, while Smolenak had seven points and three assists. Briana Massey added six points and five boards.

Frontier led 20-19 off the glass and had nine turnovers to five for Bridgeport.

Bridgeport concludes regular-season action Monday at Barnesville before starting Division IV sectional action Wednesday against Beallsville at Claymont High School in Uhrichsville.

“When you’re undefeated, people say it’s good to lose before the sectional tournament starts, but this one (loss) hurts really bad,” Zitzelsberger said. “We really wanted to hang a (OVAC) banner in the gym with this team.”

FRONTIER (46) – Haught 0 0-0 0; Daugherty 4 5-6 13; Hinton 3 0-0 6; Maston 5 0-0 12; Fickiesen 3 1-3 9; Morris 0 0-0 0; Brookover 3 0-1 6; Totals: 18-33 6-10. BRIDGEPORT (44) – Kroll 2 5-8 10; B. Massey 3 1-2 7; Murad 7 1-2 19; Smolenak 3 0-1 6; Millard 0 0-0 0; Renzler 1 0-0 2; Totals: 16-50 7-13.

Three-Point Goals: Frontier 4 (Fickiesen 2, Maston 2): Bridgeport 5 (Murad 4, Kroll)

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