Holzopfel sparks Buckeye past Steubenville

CONNORVILLE –When the game is on the line, special players seem to shine the brightest.

Monday night at Buckeye Local High School, that proved to be the case as senior standout Emily Holzopfel took command of the floor in the fourth quarter to lead the Panthers to a 53-45 win over Steubenville in their season opener.

“We wanted to run the offense through (Holzopfel) in the fourth quarter,” Buckeye Local coach Tom Figurski said. “She definitely took over in the fourth quarter, and that is why she is such a special player.”

Holzopfel scored 14 of her game-high 31 points in the final eight minutes to erase what was a slim Steubenville lead after three quarters.

After she scored 15 in the opening half, Big Red held Holzopfel to just two points in the third quarter while turning a 29-27 halftime deficit into a 41-37 advantage after three. Coach Jeff Lombardo’s group could not slow her down the rest of the way, though, as she tallied all but two of the Panthers 16 points in the fourth quarter.

“She does that,” Lombardo said of Holzopfel taking over the game. “She is a four-year starter. We had the same plan against her the whole time, she is just crafty. She knows how to score. She knows what she needs to do. She is just a smart player and knows how to get herself opportunities, even when we have double teams coming at her.

“I told our girls that she knows how to win, and that is the difference between them and us right now. We tense up in the fourth quarter and the game still stays slowed down for her. That is why she is going to score 2,000 points.”

Outside of Holzopfel’s big night, another thing that hindered Big Red, which dropped to 0-2, was the foul line. Steubenville finished just 7 of 19 from the line, while the Panthers went 17 of 24. Holzopfel alone went 9 of 12 for Buckeye Local.

“We hurt ourselves at the free throw line,” Lombardo said. “That was a 10-point swing right there. We had opportunities to stay in the game, we just have to learn how to win. We are going 110 percent, I can’t question our girls’ efforts. We make some bad fouls and some bad turnovers at bad times. Until we correct those things, which are correctable, we are going to be on the losing end of these close games.”

Adding to Holzopfel’s success was some added scoring for the Panthers, something Figurski was hoping to see. Alaire Destifanes, a fellow senior that has provided the team with a dual threat with Holzopfel, scored eight points. Helping the cause even further was sophomore Megan Valuska with eight points of her own. In total, six different players found the scoresheet for the Panthers.

“We’re trying to do a better job of taking the pressure off of her,” Figurski said. “We had six players score (Monday night), and that is a real big step for us. Last year it was maybe two or three girls score. We need to get to seven or eight scoring. Once we get there, we are going to be a fun basketball team to watch.

“We talked to Megan before the season. We know she is capable of scoring.”

Big Red got a team-high 13 from sophomore Makayla Abram. Mila Gulan scored 11, draining three 3-pointers. Madison Fields added eight, while Anna Taylor contributed six points.

Big Red got off to a fast start, opening a 19-14 lead after one quarter. Buckeye Local nearly doubled up Steubenville in the second quarter to take the lead into the break, before Big Red again gained the advantage in the third. Buckeye Local went on a 10-0 run from the end of the third quarter to pull ahead, and never looked back, Holzopfel doing most of the damage.

Buckeye Local 53, Steubenville 45

STEUBENVILLE (45): Gulan 4 0-0 11; Taylor 2 1-5 6; Fields 3 2-4 8; Crownover 1 0-0 2; Larue 2 1-4 5; Abram 5 3-6 13. TOTALS: 17 7-19 45. BUCKEYE LOCAL (53): Christian 0 2-2 2; Roski 1 1-1 3; Destinfanes 2 4-6 8; Holzopfel 11 9-12 31; Valuska 4 0-1 8; Carpico 0 1-2 1. Totals: 18 17-24 53.

3-point goals: S — Gulan (3), Taylor. BL — None.