LORDSTOWN - Despite being undefeated going into Monday night's game against Bristol, the Lordstown Red Devils used an "us against the world" mentality at home, and it worked.
The Red Devils continued their unbeaten run to start the season with a 54-51 win over the previously undefeated Panthers.
"It's a huge momentum-changer for everything," Lordstown's Mary Bennett said. "People were predicting us to lose to Bristol. So, we rallied together, and we just decided that this is going to be our game."
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Lordstown’s Mary Bennett (10) dribbles around Bristol’s Ally Jones (30) while on her way to the basket. The Red Devils beat Bristol, 54-51.
That mentality only seemed to strengthen, as leader Sarah Cash got into foul trouble early.
The junior recorded her third foul at the 1:31 mark in the first quarter and had to sit out the rest of the half. Lordstown (7-0, 1-0 Northeastern Athletic Conference, West Division) struggled after that, scoring only two points until halftime.
The Panthers (6-1, 1-1) took advantage of Cash's absence, dropping 19-unanswered points over the final nine-and-a-half minutes in the first half.
Bristol used its height advantage, passing the ball down to Ally Jones. The junior center had her way in post, and in three out of four-straight possessions during the middle of the second quarter, she scored a bucket from the low block.
The Panthers went into halftime with an 11-point lead.
"(Jones) has got some really nice moves in the post," Lordstown coach Dave Smith said. "It's a tough task for probably anybody to guard her because she's a great offensive player."
In the second half, Cash came back onto the foul, and the lift she gave the team was visible. The Red Devils went on a 17-4 run to start the third quarter, which erased the halftime deficit by the 2:55 mark.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Cash took over, scoring 13 points. She hit two buckets within 20 seconds that tied up the game and put the team ahead with 42.6 seconds remaining. It turned out to be the game-winning basket.
Cash is now 10 points away from hitting the 1,000 point mark. She should pass the milestone on Dec. 27, when the Red Devils take on Lowellville.
"Sarah's one of our leaders on the court," Bennett said. "Less so her points, but the fact that she can tell us what we're doing wrong. She knows the game better than anybody else on the team. We love her dearly. When she came back to the court, it was just a huge relief to us because it was nice to have our team leader out there again."
One of the players who benefited the most from Cash's return was Bennett.
The junior forward scored 10 of her 11 points in the third, including two putback buckets at the end which tied it up going into the final quarter.
"Our coach came into the locker room, and he just said that we needed to step up," Bennett said. "That just really inspired me. What came naturally to me I had to do."
As for Bristol, the third quarter left coach Lisa Gabrielson ruing the missed opportunities in terms of turnovers and missed shots.
"We had control of the game," Bristol coach Lisa Gabrielson said. "We came out in the third quarter, and we were begging them to control, own the game... We just kept making the same bad decision over and over again."