Ligonier Valley Rams rock Windber
RICHLAND -- With another chance on a big stage, the Ligonier Valley girls wouldn't let this game slip away.
The Rams used a full-court press to help fuel an offensive outburst early in the fourth quarter that turned a tight game into a comfortable 42-29 victory against Windber in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA girls' playoffs.
It was the Rams' first game since giving up a 13-point lead in losing to Marion Center in the District 6 championship. In that contest, the Rams faded down the stretch, but against Windber last Friday at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, the Rams elevated their game in crunch time.
"We've got to learn from our mistakes," said Ligonier Valley sophomore guard Maddy Grimm. "We know from now on that we've got to play the entire game. We can't stop."
"Maybe they're growing up," Ligonier Valley head coach Paul Dominic said of his young team that starts just one senior. "It's nice to see that."
The Rams, who defeated Windber for the second time this season, entered the fourth quarter hanging on to a 26-22 lead before they scored on their first seven possessions of the period, to stretch that advantage to 40-27 with less than four minutes to go.
Grimm sparked the offense to begin the quarter, scoring the Rams' first three baskets. The first bucket came on a putback, but then the District 5 champions responded with a 3-pointer by Courtney Petrunak. Grimm, who registered a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, converted another putback the next time down the floor to start a run of eight unanswered points for the Rams.
Once the Windber defense started to converge on Grimm, she dumped it off to forward Kristen Gabelt for a wide-open layup inside. Gabelt, who matched Grimm's game-high 10 points, ended the 8-0 run by stealing a pass in the press and taking it all the way to the hoop for a layup. That basket put Ligonier Valley ahead 36-25 with 4:50 remaining.
"I felt the momentum shift when we stole the ball on that inbounds pass in the press, and they couldn't get the ball up the floor,"?Dominic said. "We went into that press, and it took us a little while to settle in and find out who they were looking for. But, once we figured that out, Kristen (Gabelt) made two layups off of it, and now they have to overplay us. Now we can run our sets even more effectively once they start to overplay because they need the ball."
Windber center Rachel Lovely finally answered for Windber when she broke the press and scored on a layup, but the Rams' offense kept rolling as sophomore Kyra Ludwig scored on the following two possessions on a layup and then on two free throws to make the score 40-27 with 3:52 to go.
Ludwig's shots from the foul line -- the Rams' only attempts of the game -- came after the Ramblers threw the ball out of bounds on an inbounds pass -- another result of the Ligonier Valley press.
After the Ramblers had kept the Rams from gaining a rebounding edge in the first three quarters, Ligonier Valley dominated the boards in the fourth with a 12-3 advantage which included six offensive rebounds for the Rams.
"I think we outrebounded them in the first half, and that kept us close," said Windber head coach Rich Price, "but we haven't shot well in about a month, and it seems like a couple easy shots don't go in, and the basket seems to get smaller."
The Ramblers shot just 24 percent from the floor and were 2 of 18 from behind the 3-point line. The Rams limited Lovely to just six points after she entered averaging more than 11 per game.
"We knew that they were good outside shooters, and we knew that Lovely was good and strong inside," Grimm said, "so we knew what we had to target on defense."
Last Friday's game featured a completely different start than the Rams' 69-65 December win over Windber in the consolation game of a tournament at Bishop Guilfoyle.
In that contest, the Ramblers jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but this time it was the Rams striking early as they converted their first three shots to take a 6-0 lead. A turnover-riddled first quarter ended with the Rams ahead 8-4.
"We reminded ourselves 'Don't come out sluggish,'" Dominic said. "We got sluggish, but it was just kind of getting used to the floor, getting used to the sets. They did fine. I'm really pleased."
The Ramblers battled back, however, and took their first lead of the game, 11-10, two minutes into the second on a Lovely bucket. Two Cheyenne Feathers free throws made the score 13-10, but Ligonier Valley would hold Windber scoreless for the final 4:40 of the period and take a 14-13 advantage into the half.
The teams traded leads a few times in the third quarter with the Rams getting two big 3-pointers from Taylor Rudnik and Courtney Bridge, the only baskets for either player. Right before Bridge's 3-pointer, Gabelt put the Rams ahead 21-20 with 3:13 to go when she converted a layup off a nice dish from Grimm. Ligonier Valley held onto the lead the rest of the way.
The Rams shot 48 percent (12 of 25) from the floor in the second half and used that hot shooting along with the press to seal the game.
"To Ligonier's credit, they don't make mistakes," Price said, "so if you make a mistake against them, they're going to capitalize on it, and they did. That's really the difference in the game, especially the fourth quarter."
Ondrea Null led the Ramblers with seven points. Ludwig tallied eight points for the Rams while Callen Knupp dished out a game-high five assists.