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Quick first half paces Norwin girlsin victory

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Connellsville's Maria Merendino (middle) is trapped by Norwin's Alayna Gribble (left) and Julia Carter during Thursday's game. Lori Padilla/For the Daily Courier
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Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 11:06 p.m.

The Connellsville girls basketball team gets high marks for effort most nights, and Thursday's game against visiting Norwin was no exception.

Despite a first half in which the Knights (9-8, 7-3) dominated, the Falcons (6-12, 1-9) kept coming and were able to turn a 12-point deficit into a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter. However, the Knights kept their composure and thwarted Connellsville's rally for a hard-fought 54-40 victory in Section 1-AAAA.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Connellsville coach Shawna Little said. “We had 10 points in the first half and 30 in the second half. That's a big difference.”

The game was shaping up to be a runaway victory for the Knights as they raced to a 9-0 lead and held a 22-10 lead at the half. Alayna Gribble, who led all scorers with 21 points, knocked down a big 3-pointer near the end of the half to give Norwin a seemingly comfortable lead. Norwin was suffocating Connellsville with the press, forcing the Falcons into numerous turnovers.

“We needed to make some adjustments to their press, and we did that and it worked really well in the second half,” Little said.

Connellsville's different scheme allowed Saiah Mickens and Ashton Grimm to find open space, and each player responded. Grimm, who finished with 12 points, got the Falcons going in the third quarter with two quick baskets. Mickens, who finished with a team-high 17 points, also found her shooting touch.

“Saiah and Ashton are capable of being double-digit scorers,” Little said. “Saiah is super athletic and Ashton is so fast.”

Grimm used her speed to drive inside for key buckets, and Mickens was hitting bank shots from all over the offensive zone.

Mickens banked in a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer, then hit a layup to start the fourth quarter as the Falcons pulled to within 32-30. Connellsville also trailed, 34-32, but could never pull even with the Knights.

“We're still getting there,” Little said. “We battled and battled, but we're still trying to get over the hump and win a close game.”

Norwin survived Connellsville's scare thanks to a tremendous effort by Gribble. The freshman buried four big baskets in the fourth quarter to help the Knights gain space on the scoreboard before eventually pulling away in the closing minutes.

“Alayna did a nice job, especially for a freshman,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said. “She plays ahead of her years.”

Connellsville's second-half rally was aided by a number of missed shots by the Knights. But the Knights found their offensive game down the stretch.

“We just had to make sure we relaxed and just let it come natural,” Brozeski said.

Brozeski was pleased with the win, and even though his team jumped out to an early lead, he didn't expect the Falcons to roll over.

“They kept fighting,” Brozeski said. “That's what we've seen on film. They don't play the scoreboard, they just play with a lot of heart.”

Jason Black is the Local Sports Editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at

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