What St. Paul girls basketball coach Vicky Mahl saw in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against visiting St. Mary Central Catholic was a positive sign — and a great cap to a good opening weekend.
After the Panthers had trimmed an 11-point deficit down to a basket (31-29) with 6:22 left, the Lady Flyers held them to one field goal the rest of the way — and just a single free throw over the final 4:38 of a 40-32 win inside the Harvey Keller Gymnasium.
The win capped a weekend sweep for St. Paul, as it also won Friday at Huron by a 46-32 score.
Saturday’s game was a matchup of two teams which each won 17 games and fell to powerhouse Buckeye Central in the district semifinals and finals last season.
But on a night where St. Paul (2-0) was just 14-of-58 shooting (24 percent), the defense was critical.
“I think our defense as it starts to continue to get better and better will be a factor all season,” Mahl said. “Shooting is definitely something we need to work on.”
A 3-pointer by junior Danielle Smith put the Lady Flyers ahead, 26-18, with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
However, the Panthers closed the quarter by outscoring the hosts 9-5 to pull within 31-27. Jillian McGuire then scored the first basket of the fourth quarter with 6:22 left to make it a 31-29 game.
But 42 seconds later, junior guard Camille Endsley responded with a big 3-pointer, and classmate Morgan Baxter added a basket with five minutes left to put St. Paul back up 36-29.
After Karina Near scored with 4:38 left, the Lady Flyers held SMCC to just a single free throw by Near with 1:31 left down the stretch. Baxter and Endsley each added baskets with 3:47 and 46.1 seconds left to cap the scoring.
St. Paul was 4-of-11 shooting (36 percent) and committed just one turnover in the fourth quarter.
“We took better care of the ball,” Mahl said. “They scored 17 of their 32 points in the third quarter, and I just think we settled down a little bit. We put it into perspective a little bit in a timeout about what we needed to do and how to handle things.
“I just think we controlled and handled the ball better and that made a difference,” she added.
SMCC didn’t score until the 2:24 mark of the first quarter, after the Lady Flyers had scored the first six points of the game on free throws by Baxter, Endsley — and baskets from seniors Anna Lukasko and Megan Hammersmith.
The second of Smith’s two 3-pointers put St. Paul up 9-2, but back-to-back baskets by SMCC made it 9-6 after the opening eight minutes.
But leading 11-8, the Lady Flyers went on an 8-0 scoring run to open up a 19-8 lead with 2:55 left in the first half. Smith and Maddy McCall each scored four points in the run.
By halftime, it was a 19-10 lead and the Panthers had turned the ball over 24 times in the 12 minutes of play.
“From trying to get a scouting report with ball handling, I knew we would press and I thought we did a great job with it early on,” Mahl said. “But I apologized to the girls because I thought I should have pulled the press off earlier than I did.
“I think late in the first half and parts of that third quarter, they were tired and it wasn’t quite as effective. But I do think it caused them (SMCC) some issues as far as control — in the first half especially.”
The Panthers finished 13-of-27 shooting and held a 30-24 edge in rebounds, but committed 33 turnovers. Near had 11 points and McGuire scored eight.
For St. Paul, Smith finished with 12 points and Baxter added 10. Lukasko added six points and five rebounds, while Endsley had six points and four rebounds.
In the junior varsity game, SMCC won by a 42-19 final score. Freshman Molly Ridge scored eight points for the Lady Flyers.
St. Paul is off until Friday, when a third straight non-league game against a Sandusky Bay Conference foe is on tap at Tiffin Calvert.
“I’m just proud of the way we played,” Mahl said. “It was a back-to-back to start the season, but the girls handled things well.”
ST. MARY C.C. (0-1)
Brittan Kromer 3-0—7; Karina Near 3-5—11; Jillian McGuire 4-0—8; Allison Weilnau 3-0—6. TOTALS 13-5—32.
ST. PAUL (2-0)
Danielle Smith 3-4—12; Megan Hammersmith 1-0—2; Camille Endsley 2-1—6; Morgan Baxter 3-3—10; Anna Lukasko 3-0—6; Maddy McCall 2-0—4. TOTALS 14-8—40.
SMCC 6 4 17 5 — 32
St. Paul 9 10 12 9 — 40
3-point FGs: (SM) Kromer; (SP) Smith 2, Endsley, Baxter
JV: SMCC, 42-19.