By Dominick DiRienzo
Special to The Meadville Tribune
Makenzie Zidek made her first career start for Allegheny a memorable one. The sophomore from Leechburg scored a team-high 21 points and helped the Gators’ end a three-game losing streak with a 77-65 North Coast Athletic Conference win over Oberlin at the Wise Center Wednesday during the Gators’ annual Play 4 Kay game.
Allegheny coach Kate Costanzo said the Gators were looking for a boost on offense after averaging 60 points in the last three losses.
“We were hoping she could provide a spark at the start of the game instead of a few minutes in,” Costanzo said.
Zidek, who came into the game averaging 8.5 points in about 18 minutes per game, obliged for the Gators (13-9, 7-6 NCAC). She nailed her first shot, a 3-pointer just over two minutes into the game, and was perfect from the floor in the first half.
Zidek found out right before the game that she would be making her first start. She said there were no jitters, and when she hit her first three, she knew Wednesday could be a good night.
“When you hit that first shot, you think this could be a special game,” Zidek said.
Zidek was 7-of-9 from the field and was perfect in the first half, hitting all five of her shots, including some key shots that ended Gator scoring droughts.
“She was in the zone,” Costanzo said.
Her 21 points were her highest total since scoring 29 in the Gators’ 89-85 win over Saint Vincent on Dec. 18.
Four other Gators were in double figures as Oberlin (8-14, 3-10) lost its ninth straight game. Allegheny’s last win was an 86-66 victory over Oberlin on Jan. 26. Jessica Mrdjenovich scored 16, including a crucial four-point play in the second half that put the Gators up 59-50 with 11:43 left in the game. Rachel Vigliotti, Kendall Hoffman and leading scorer Emma Pellicano each added 10 points. Vigliotti and Zidek each had a team-high six boards.
“I was really pleased with our balanced scoring,” Costanzo said.
Allegheny led 30-20 with 6:09 left in the first half and despite a cold streak that saw the Gators go 4-for-9 from the field with three turnovers they still led 40-34 just before halftime. But Oberlin’s Lindsey Bernhardt drained a three in the final seconds of the first half to cut a six-point lead in the half. Oberlin opened the second half with a three by Eleanor Van Buren to tie the score at 40 with 18:38 left in the game. Zidek ended another Gator scoring drought with a three to put AC up 43-40. Zidek scored six of Gators’ first eight points of the second half to help keep a sputtering Gator offense moving forward and putting the Gators up 48-42.
Oberlin got within 52-50 with 13:04 left in the game, but a Vigliotti three and Mrdjenovich’s four-point play put the Gators back in control, 59-50. Oberlin only got within five points one more time, 61-56, with 9:46 left. But the Gators went a 12-2 run and kept Oberlin scoreless for a little over six minutes.
“We thought our tempo would wear them down in the second half,” Costanzo said.
Both teams had respectable showings from the floor. Oberlin shot 47.5-percent (28-of-59) while Allegheny shot 53.4 percent (31-for-58). Many of the other stats in the scorebook were pretty similar, but Oberlin coach Kerry Jenkins said the Gators whipped them in a category that’s not on the scoresheet.
“The 50-50 plays … they made more of them than we did,” Jenkins said. “They did a really good job on the hustle plays.”
Allegheny outscored Oberlin on points off turnovers, 24-13, in bench scoring, 24-2, and 30-16 in the paint.
A potent Gators’ shooting offense — they were 10-for-19 from behind the arc in the game — was bolstered late by Kaitlyn Fromknecht. The 6-foot-1 sophomore from McDowell pounded down low, scoring from the paint in three straight trips to help Gators go up 73-56.
“They shot well from the outside,” Jenkins said. “When they are making shots it makes it tough on your ‘D’.”
Christina Marquette, a 5-9 junior forward, led the Yeowomen with 12 rebounds. She added 12 points. Van Buren had a career-high 16 points. Bernhardt also had 16 points and Lillian Jahan had 11 points and six rebounds.
The Gators travel to Ohio Wesleyan (14-8, 9-4) on Saturday. The Battling Bishops beat the Gators 82-62 in their last meeting in November. Allegheny has to win out to have a chance to get into the top four in the league standings to host an NCAC Tournament game.
“We are going to have to treat each game like a playoff game now,” Costanzo said.
As for whether Zidek gets a second start Saturday, Costanzo said she’ll wait until after this week’s practice before she makes a decision.