By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Sammi Webster delivered the block heard ’round the gym on Saturday afternoon, preserving Concord University’s late lead and helping the Lady Lions beat the Mountain Cats of Pitt-Johnstown 60-57.
Concord’s first conference game of the season included 12 ties and 13 lead changes. The visitors led 57-56 with a minute remaining, but lost it for good when Amanda Smith hit a baseline jumper with 31 seconds left.
Pitt-Johnstown (0-1) put the ball in the hands of Kaitlynn Fratz, the league’s freshman of the year last season. But Webster reached over and rejected the ball while Fratz was going up to shoot from short range.
Stephanie Wagner sank a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to three with 12 seconds remaining. A three-point try by the Mountain Cats’ Leah Hansen fell short, Smith grabbed the defensive rebound, and Concord (2-2, 1-0 in conference play) secured the win.
Referring to the Lady Lions’ 86-81 overtime win on Wednesday, Concord head coach Kenny Osborne said, “When it got tight, we had been in a pressure situation, the other night with West Virginia Tech, and they hadn’t. So I think we had a little advantage.”
“I thought it was a defensive struggle, both teams, but we were fortunate enough to make a couple of plays at the end and win the game.”
Wagner drained a three-pointer in front of the visitors’ bench to provide the game’s biggest lead, 20-13 at the midpoint of the first half. Pitt-Johnstown toughened on defense and ended the first half with a 15-6 run, capped by a jumper from Fratz, and the visitors led 28-26 at halftime.
Neither team led by more than four points in the second half.
After their first game of the season, Pitt-Johnstown head coach Sasha Palmer said, “I think both teams played well. We missed free throws down the stretch and they didn’t. You win and you lose on free throws, and we did tonight.”
Concord was 13 for 16 at the foul line, while the Mountain Cats went 6 for 11.
Palmer said, “We had three freshmen in at times. I think it’s good experience for them, it could be a good or a bad thing. ... It takes a lot of patience with them.”
“I thought we played hard. We just didn’t execute a lot. We missed a lot of layups and free throws, and that’s execution. But I’m happy with their heart and work ethic, and I’d rather take that than anything.”
Osborne said, “They were very well organized. Sasha (Palmer)’s a good coach. They’ve got a very good team, and we were very fortunate to get the win.”
Amanda Smith again led Concord with 21 points and eight rebounds, while post player Rachel Artrip produced a career-high 18 points and added seven rebounds. Jacqueline Kestner grabbed four steals, and Pitt-Johnstown ended with 19 turnovers.
Osborne said Smith “played very well in the first half,” then had a lull. “But she got her wind back in the last three or four minutes and made some plays. Wagner made two or three free throws to at least get it to three points. Those two stepped up and made plays.”
He said that in the second half Artrip, though saddled with four trouble, was “a lot more intense, (had) a lot of energy, which helped get us the win.”
For Pitt-Johnstown, Fratz hit nine of 17 field-goal tries and ended with 21 points. Rachel Johnson had a game-high nine rebounds.
Concord travels to play Alderson-Broaddus on Tuesday before taking a holiday break. Osborne hopes that his squad will stay focused until the final whistle.
Osborne said, “My concern is not checking out early, wanting to get home and have Thanksgiving. They’ll get their time at home. But we’ve just got to make sure we take care of business. All league games are so important. We have a chance to go 2-0 (in conference play).”
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org