Freeport girls edge their way past Kittanning
After missing almost half of Freeport's Section 1-AAA schedule with concussion symptoms, senior Jessica Aulicino was eager to return to the Lady Yellowjackets' lineup for the final few contests, all of which weigh heavily on the team's playoff fate.
Aulicino, in her second game back, put that desire to get involved on full display during Thursday night's section home win over Kittanning.
The 6-foot forward scored 10 points, including eight in a row, during the third quarter and finished with a team-high 17 during the 58-57 victory for the Yellowjackets (7-11, 5-5), who secured a playoff spot and can now potentially tie Kittanning (8-12, 6-5) for third in the section.
“I think all the rust is off,” Aulicino said. “It felt good to be back; it was killing me sitting on the bench. ... I just finally got back into my groove.”
Aulicino, 5-8 guard Macy Smolic, 5-10 forward Michaela Bowser and 5-7 guard Haley Conner used their height to give Freeport an edge on the glass, particularly in the offensive end. The Yellowjackets finished with 41 rebounds, including 19 offensive boards, while Kittanning, with just one contributor taller than 5-6, managed 31 rebounds.
Smolic, who had 14 points, came through in the game's final moments. Her putback with 1:12 left tied the score at 56. Then, with 13 seconds remaining, she drove the center of the lane and made the game-deciding layup.
Conner added nine points, seven of which came in the second half. And Bowser scored eight points, including four on putbacks, one of which created the biggest lead, 46-39, for either team.
“I thought it was a great team effort because everybody had to contribute tonight,” Freeport coach Paul Sylba said.
Said Aulicino: “I think toward the end of the season, we've started to work more as a team. We started to be able to see each other and see those backdoor cuts. I think finally we have chemistry.”
Freeport's powerful inside game — the Yellowjackets had 36 points in the paint — contrasted with Kittanning's guard-fueled offense. Sophomore guard Alaina Thomas converted six 3-pointers, including three in the first quarter, during a 21-point effort. Junior guard Emily Knepshield's aggressive drives earned her numerous trips to the foul line; she finished with 14 points, including 10 on free throws.
“I was in a better rhythm than I have been, and I was a lot more open than usual,” said Thomas, who credited her quality looks to the defensive focus on Knepshield.
Thomas noted that Kittanning's front court improved with the return of senior forward Frankie Religa, who is coming off a torn meniscus.
“She's more physical than most of us,” Thomas said.
But Religa's recovery has been one of several the Wildcats have awaited. Senior guard Taylor Patterson and sophomores Emily Klingensmith and Tiffany Montgomery remain sidelined with injuries.
“It's tough with the number of girls we have out,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of potential with who we have (available) right now. We just have to get more used to playing with each other.”
Kittanning will finish section play at home Thursday against Hampton (15-4, 10-0). Freeport will wrap up its section schedule with games against Hampton and Highlands (1-15, 0-10).