Buckeye defeats Big Red in OT thriller

STEUBENVILLE — Based on Saturday’s results, Monday’s OVAC Class 4A semifinal clash between Big Red and Buckeye Local just might qualify as a must-see girls basketball game.

The two teams locked horns in a thrilling preview inside the Crimson Center. The Panthers, thanks to a Maddy Gill bucket and free throw makes by Angelina Piergallini and Alaire Destifanes, escaped with a 54-53 overtime victory.

Tom Figurski’s club, now 14-6, is the second seed for the conference tournament. Jeff Lombardo’s Big Red (8-10) is seeded third. The semifinal game will be played on Buckeye Local’s home floor.

“I think Steubenville was ready for us, and coach Lombardo had his girls well prepared,” Figurski said. “They knew who to take away. We had some girls step up offensively to help us out. I was happy to see Maddy make some big shots, and Carrie Dill did some nice things against their freshman post player (Makayla Abram). All in all, it was a total team effort.

“Monday should be a lot fun. We seem to play a little better on our home court. That’s what we worked hard for all year. I know our student body will be there to help get our girls excited.”

Abram scored the game’s first three points before the Panthers went on a 7-0 run (Emily Holzopfel got it started with a nifty drive, and Destifanes finished it with a deuce). Buckeye Local was up 9-8 after one.

Lombardo’s crew scored eight straight to open the second. Senior Sarah Brown knocked down a jumper before draining a triple. Fellow senior Seana Ragusa, who’s been battling an illness this week, also connected from behind the arc. Baskets by Dill and Holzopfel made it 16-13 before Brown drilled another one from downtown. The Panthers closed it to within four (22-18) at the break.

“Once we got things going, I thought we played much better,” Figurski said. “We were a little sluggish early. I’m not going to blame that on the schedule. Because of the weather, everyone is playing three or four games a week. The thing is we can’t afford to have those slow starts and expect to beat good teams like Steubenville.”

Holzopfel took over in the third, scoring 11 as the Panthers outscored Big Red 17-14. The junior standout was 7-of-7 from the line during the quarter. Gill accounted for the other six Buckeye points. Following Gill’s third hoop, the visitors were up 35-29. Big Red closed with a 7-0 run to regain the lead at 36-35. Anna Taylor came off Lombardo’s bench to spark the rally, netting five points.

The final eight minutes featured seven lead changes and four ties. Abram and Gill traded baskets with a little more than a minute to play to knot the score at 48. Both teams had chances during the final 60 seconds of regulation but failed to convert.

Holzopfel got the scoring started in the extra session on another drive to the basket. Big Red went up 51-50 when Ragusa drained her third triple of the game. Gill’s bucket put the Panthers ahead to stay. The free tosses by Piergallini and Destifanes accounted for Buckeye’s final points. Abram then scored the final points of the game.

“Both teams were getting after it today,” Lombardo said. “Emily is a heck of a player. She’s just hard to stop. You can draw up all types of defenses to contain her but, sometimes, good players just rise up.

“She’s also a heck of a free-throw shooter, and the game turned into a free-throw shooting contest with some touch fouls here and there. It’s hard to guard her as it is. If you put her at the free throw line, she is going to make you pay.”

Holzopfel finished with a game-high 26 points. She was 10-for-11 from the line. Gill contributed 10 for Buckeye Local and Destifanes nine. Holzopfel also snared a team-high eight rebounds and dished out three assists.

“We’ll go back tomorrow, work on a couple of things we didn’t do well today and get better at them,” Figurski said. “We may not be the biggest team. We’re good basketball players, and one thing this team has is a lot of heart. They will fight to the very end, no matter who we are playing. I think you saw that today in the fourth quarter.”

Big Red had three players finish with double figures. Abram had a team-high 20, Ragusa finished with 11 and Brown 10. Madison Fields snared 13 boards, and Brown recorded three assists.

“Our girls battled,” Lombardo said. “It was the same thing as Thursday. We didn’t get off to a good start. Our kids just compete all the time. That was a hard fought game on both ends. We’ll sit down, look at the film and see what kind of adjustments we need to make for Monday. Hopefully, the results will change.

“I don’t care if we are playing them two times in three days. I’m not sure if it is a benefit or not. It’s an opportunity for us to go out there, compete and get after it.”

Game notes:

¯ Myla Gulan had 10 points and Aubrey Thompson nine as Big Red rolled to a 39-14 victory in the junior varsity game. Rachel Moore and Skylar Langford had five each for the Panthers.

Buckeye Local 54, Steubenville 53

Buckeye 9-9-17-13-6 — 54

Big Red 8-14-14-12-5 — 53

BUCKEYE LOCAL (14-6): Gill 5 0-0 10; Piergallini 1 1-2 3; Miller 0 0-0 0; Valuska 1 0-0 2; Holzopfel 8 10-11 26; Destifanes 3 3-8 9; Dill 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 20 14-21 54.

BIG RED (8-10): Ragusa 4 0-0 11; Taylor 2 0-0 5; Brown 4 0-0 10; Fields 1 3-4 5; Crownover 0 0-0 0; Ferguson 1 0-0 2; Gulan 0 0-0 0; Abram 7 6-10 20. TOTALS 19 9-14 53.

3-POINT GOALS: Big Red (Ragusa 3, Brown 2, Taylor); REBOUNDS: Buckeye Local 32 (Holzopfel 8); Big Red 32 (Fields 12); ASSISTS: Buckeye Local 9 (Holzopfel 3); Big Red 11 (Brown 3); TURNOVERS: Buckeye Local 11; Big Red 19.