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Connellsville girls strong again after halftime in victory over Laurel Highlands

| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, 10:00 p.m.
Lori Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Connellsville's Maria Merendino (right) holds on to the ball while being pressured by Laurel Highlands' Ashley Galderisi (2) and Haley Moreland (13) during a Section 1-AAAA game on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 at Connellsville High School.
Lori Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Connellsville's Molly Bauer (40) looks to make a pass while being defended by Laurel Highlands' Kristina Hudock during a Section 1-AAAA game on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at Connellsville High School.

During the course of this season, the Connellsville girls basketball team has found it difficult to consistently put together complete-game efforts.

However, the Falcons, under first-year coach Kenny Johnson, consistently have proven themselves to be solid in the third and fourth quarters of many contests.

On Thursday, the Falcons' knack for playing well in the second half continued, and the result was a 61-47 victory over visiting Laurel Highlands in Section 1-AAAA.

“The second half, all season, we've been very good,” Johnson said. “We're a second-half team, and that's why I thought we had a good chance to win this one.”

Johnson had to feel good coming out of halftime as the Falcons (5-6, 2-3) stayed with the Fillies (2-9, 1-4) in the first two quarters.

Laurel Highlands took an early lead thanks to 3-pointers by Ashley Galderisi and Haley Moreland, who led the Fillies with 15 points. Kristina Hudock added 10 points.

However, Connellsville's Ashton Grimm converted some open looks inside as the teams headed to the second quarter tied 13-13. Grimm led all scorers with 22 points.

“Ashton's biggest strength is her speed, and she used it and made layups,” Johnson said. “She was huge for us.”

Connellsville went on an 11-0 run in the second quarter to grab a 26-20 lead, but the Fillies responded, and the teams entered halftime deadlocked at 28-28.

In the second half, Connellsville took control.

The Falcons played a strong defensive game in the third quarter, outscoring the visitors 16-6 in the frame. Grimm continued to hit shots, as did Madison Wiltrout, Marissa Keffer, Saiah Mickens and Maria Merendino, and Connellsville took a 44-34 lead into the fourth.

“That's what we're going to hang our hat on,” Johnson said in regards to the team's defensive effort.

Leading the way defensively was Brittany Craig. She was a deterrent underneath the basket, and in the fourth quarter, she scored six of her 10 points to help the Falcons seal an important section win.

“The MVP of this game was Brittany Craig,” Johnson said. “She was phenomenal blocking shots and making layups. She was the key to the win.”

For the Fillies, having the game up for grabs at halftime then struggling in the second half was disappointing.

Laurel Highlands coach Kenny Riddell noted that the team was missing starter Taylor Large because of an ankle injury, but he wasn't using that as a crutch.

“Really, there are no excuses for getting beat physically,” Riddell said. “We just didn't play well. We missed far too many layups, and you can't compete in Quad-A when you make mistakes like that. We just didn't take care of the basketball. Give Connellsville credit. They came ready to play, and they hit us in the mouth.”

For the Falcons, it was an important home victory.

“We want to get on a roll,” Johnson said. “And for us to get to our goals, we have to protect our home court. If we play with maximum energy, we have a chance.”

Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. Reach him at jblack@tribweb.com.

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