Pusch Ridge did it again. For the third time this year, the Lions (11-4) defeated the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks (4-11), 38-29, in girls’ basketball.
“It’s a great confidence booster,” said Gabrielle Courtney, who scored six of her nine points in the second half.
The Lions are doing a great job of adjusting to life in their first year in Division II play. They are currently ranked 19th out of 65 Division II teams in Arizona, and they roared loudly in January with an 8-1 record going into their Jan. 31 game at San Manuel.
The Nighthawks made this a hotly-contested battle as they opened the fourth quarter with an 8-2 run in front of their home fans.
Two free throws by the Nighthawks’ Heidi Benjamin gave the home team a 26-25 lead with 3:42 left in regulation.
The senior Benjamin led all scorers with 13 points and was 5-10 from the floor. Only foul trouble kept her from being completely unstoppable.
Ironwood coach Josh Dickinson acknowledged that Benjamin was the best offensive player on the floor.
“She’s really turned her game on late in the season,” Dickinson said. “Just a great leader out there.”
Another Benjamin basket made it 28-25, until Abby Maas buried a dramatic three-pointer for Pusch Ridge to tie the score at 28 with 2:48 left.
The Lions turned it on down the stretch, as they scored the final nine points.
“We just stepped up and pulled it out together,” Courtney said.
Caroline Roessler buried a three pointer with less than two minutes left, and a Courtney layup gave the Lions a 34-29 lead.
Then, the Lions lined up for an inbounds play near mid-court. Courtney broke towards the basket, got the pass, and layed it in for what looked like the clincher.
But a controversial traveling violation was called.
“I still don’t understand the (official) explanation,” Tvrdy said.
Then, another strange call occurred. On the inbounds play, the Nighthawks were called for a violation, and the ball went back immediately to the Lions.
Courtney was fouled, and made two free throws to put the game away at 36-29.
Noelle Soltero led the Lions with 11 points, despite fouling out. She made 4-8 from the field, and was 3-4 from the free throw line.
The free throw line made a difference, as the Lions converted 65 percent of their shots from the charity stripe, while the Nighthawks made only 36 percent.
“Their coach did a great job,” Tvrdy said. “They were smart.”
The Lions made only 25 percent of their shots from the field in the first half. They shot 28 percent overall, while the Nighthawks were also at 28 percent.
“I feel fortunate,” Tvrdy said. “It was a defensive battle.”
Dickinson admitted that the familiarity of both teams with each other may have hurt both offenses.
“We both run the same offense,” Dickinson said. “So it’s a struggle offensively.”
“Erin Sanford did a great job on defense. It kept us in it.”
The Nighthawks are not going to the playoffs, and they’re struggling in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, but Dickinson’s not discouraged.
“I love this team,” Dickinson said. “Despite eight losses in a row, they keep playing with heart.”
“I expect them to do it the rest of the way.”