Last season, Linesville became the first team other than Saegertown, Maplewood or Lakeview to capture a Region 3 or French Creek Valley Conference title since the Lady Lions last did so in 1994.
This season, Linesville is trying to do something, again, that only a select few have done: finish a Region 3 or FCVC season unbeaten. The Lady Lions are on their way to doing just that.
Linesville jumped out to a 12-2 lead and never looked back on its way to a 45-21 win over Cochranton Wednesday night in a Region 3 showdown at the Bird Cage.
With the win, the Lions head into the Christmas break at 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the region. Last year at this time, Linesville was 2-3 overall. It went on to finish 16-6 and 13-1 in the region.
The Lions are hoping for even better this season and last night’s win over Cochranton was a huge step in that direction.
“We were really intimidated coming in,” Linesville junior forward Amber Litwiler said. “We thought it would be a really close game. But we just came out and played really strong. We’re definitely happy to be where we are right now.”
A big reason for the Lions’ success against the Cardinals, whose only loss coming into last night’s game was to Class AA Maplewood in overtime in their tip-off tournament championship game, was their defensive pressure, particularly in the first half.
Linesville forced 10 turnovers in the opening half and held the Cards to just four field goals on 27 attempts. That’s a shooting percentage of 14.8 percent.
“We’re putting a lot of pressure on the ball,” Litwiler said. “And our press is getting a lot better. Each game it’s improving and that’s been the key so far.”
“We’re faster this year,” Linesville coach Bill Stevenson said regarding the Lions’ defense this season. “Our half-court defense is as good, particularly our zone defense. But team-wise we are faster. Even that double-cutter stuff they run (at Cochranton), that gave us fits last year. We were able to do a much better job (last night) and were beating most of those screens.”
Cochranton had an answer for the Lions in the early part of the third quarter and managed to cut its 13-point halftime deficit to just seven points (21-14) less than two minutes into the second half. Linesville, however, responded just as fast and didn’t allow the Cards to get any closer.
“We looked like we knew what we were supposed to be doing, but we just didn’t finish,” Cochranton coach Gary Egli said.
Egli wasn’t so quick to blame Linesville’s pressure.
“We’ve seen presses pretty much every game,” he said. “I don’t think it was as much the press as it was after we missed the first few shots we got anxious and started forcing stuff. Then all of a sudden the pressure got involved because we thought we had to hurry up and get down the court.”
Cochranton (3-2, 2-1) wound up shooting 9-of-45 (20 percent) for the night and committed 20 turnovers.
Lauralee Clements led the Lions with 17 points. Litwiler finished with a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double.
For the Cards, Emily Ward had six points and seven rebounds. Becca Saunier had five points. Kendell Dickson, who didn’t play in the second half because of an ankle injury, had five rebounds.