Tornado girls rally to avoid season-opening loss
Eagle Sports Editor
BUTLER TWP — Butler turned the ball over early. Ambridge gave the game away late.
The Golden Tornado survived 16 first-half turnovers and rallied from a five-point deficit in the final three minutes to notch a 62-60 girls basketball win over Ambridge in the first round of the Butler Tip-Off Tournament Friday night.
Butler will face Mercyhurst Prep — a 45-34 winner over Gateway — in the tournament title game at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
"Looks like I picked the wrong team to play again,"Butler coach Dorothea Epps said of the tournament's first-round matchups. "Our girls played hard, but their girls were taking it to us."
The Bridgers hung in until the end despite using just six players. Ambridge dressed only eight girls for the varsity game, as one player is on a band trip and another is sidelined with a knee injury.
Its top six players were there, however, and proved plenty to handle.
"We pressed them and worked them as best we could,"Epps said. "They just kept coming."
Ambridge had a 35-30 lead at halftime, despite falling behind 10-2 before the game was two minutes old. The lead changed hands eight times in the third quarter, which ended with the game tied at 47.
Butler played without point guard Lyndsy Day, who is sidelined at least a week with a hyperextended knee, and played freshman Olivia Bresnahan at the point.
"Olivia played very well for a freshman facing that kind of defensive pressure in her first game,"Epps said. "Our problem in the first half was we were trying to force the issue too much."
The Tornado corrected that problem, turning the ball over only five times in the second half. But they had no answer for junior guard Kiki Brown, who scored a game-high 26 points before fouling out with 2:40 remaining.
Brown's last points were on a layup, capping a fast break that gave the Bridgers a 59-54 lead with 2:47 left.
she fouled out, I figured we were in trouble,"Ambridge coach Kim Tirik
said. "She's our go-to player on offense. She has a heart of gold and
isn't afraid to drive to the basket and make it happen."
Two more Achesinski free throws capped the run before Kara Hochevar canned a free throw of her own to pull Ambridge within 61-60 with to play.
The Tornado ran down the clock until Bresnahan was fouled with 32 seconds left. She sank one of two free throws. Achesinski blocked Katie Frioni's shot in the lane just before the buzzer as
"That wasn't the shot we wanted," Tirik said. "Our tallest girl is 5-foot-8. With four seniors on the floor, we should have been able to get a better look than that."
"We want Amy to block and change more shots this year,"Epps said. "She came up big on that one."
Hochevar had 11 points and seven rebounds for Ambridge, a Class AAAteam which returns all of its players from last year's 13-11 season.
Lexi Fontana 0-0 0-0 0, Kiki Brown 10-20 4-4 26, Kara Hochevar 3-7 4-6 11, Kandace Smith 5-7 0-0 11, Katie Frioni 0-2 4-6 4, Cortney Pazzanita 4-4 0-0 8. Totals: 22-40 13-17 60
Mackenzie Greenert 0-0 0-0 0, Rachel Barry 4-6 7-10 15, Karissa King 1-3 2-2 5, Olivia Bresnahan 3-6 1-5 7, Liz Schultz 2-5 1-2 5, Rebecca Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Amy Achesinski 7-11 7-8 21, Maria Baroffio 3-7 2-2 9, Erica Miller 0-0 0-1 0. Totals: 20-39 20-28 62
Ambridge 16 19 12 13—60
Butler 20 10 17 15—62
3-point goals: Brown 2, Hochevar; King, Baroffio
JV: Butler, 64-8 (B: Kayla Gilliland 15, Becky Smith 12, Mackenzie Greenert 11, Karissa King 11