First-Quarter Blitz Paves the Way to a Panther Victory

Julia O’Reilly of Pleasantville shoots from the left baseline as Westlake’s Nicole Karaqi defends in last Wednesday’s game.

A huge scoring spurt in the opening quarter quickly put the Pleasantville girls’ basketball team on the path to victory last Wednesday afternoon.

Outscoring the host Westlake Wildcats 16-0 during a four-minute blitz, the Panthers took command early and went on to a 54-33 rout. Junior Jenna McAllister led the way, connecting on four 3-point shots and finishing with a game-high 20 points. Mary Grace O’Neill added nine and Lila Donohue chipped in with eight, all of them in the first half.

“We’ve had some games where we haven’t come out strong to begin with,” said Panthers head coach Dillon Clark afterwards. “So we’ve had to dig ourselves out of holes. We really wanted to focus today on coming out strong and not giving them hope that they can play with us.”

The Panthers, now 12-7 and riding a seven-game winning streak after finishing the week with a win over Valhalla, found themselves trailing the Wildcats 4-0 after a couple of early baskets by freshman ToniAnn Mastracchio. But they proceeded to keep Westlake off the scoreboard for over five minutes and built a big lead with the impressive spurt that began with a McAllister 10-foot baseline jumper and ended with a Donohue drive through the lane.

A put-back basket by Jenny Straface just in time to beat the buzzer at the end of the first quarter finally put a halt to Pleasantville’s run. But the Panthers had a 10-point lead heading to the second period, and it quickly stretched to 18 when they went on another run, this time 10-0. Julia O’Reilly and Donohue had baskets during the streak, sandwiched around back-to-back swishes by McAllister from beyond the 3-point arc.

Pleasantville opened up a 31-14 advantage before Straface once again beat the buzzer with a put-back to end the opening half.

“They were shooting well,” said Westlake coach Sean Mayer about the red-hot Panthers. “We tried to get out on their shooters and they used a quick dribble to go past us. So it was hard. You lay off them, they would make the shot. We go out to challenge, they would go past us. They played well. You know, we did the best we could.”

The second half began with a layup by McAllister, but then both teams struggled offensively. After nearly three scoreless minutes, the Panthers’ Tina Matica connected on a 3-ball from the left elbow, giving Pleasantville a 20-point cushion midway through the third quarter. A steal and fast-break layup from Sami Oswald, who led Westlake with eight points, and then a free throw by Straface with three seconds to go cut the Panthers’ lead to 40-24 heading to the final period.

“I like how we ended the quarters today,” said Mayer, searching for positives. “You know, we got a couple of layups at the end of quarters. That’ll give you some momentum. We can build off that. We made some buckets in the second half. Some girls stepped up and made some nice plays.”

In the fourth quarter, the Panthers got an early 17-foot jumper by O’Neill and then a 3-pointer by Matica. A 12-3 run, concluded by another basket from O’Neill, gave them their largest lead of the day, 52-27. Westlake’s nine points in the quarter all came from beyond the 3-point line, with two treys from the freshman, Oswald, and one from sophomore Erin Nebel.

“I was lucky enough to inherit a group from coach (Myndi) Hill, who did a great job with the foundation,” said Clark. “We have girls who have played three or four years on varsity and you could see the fruits of the labor with this group.”

A good chunk of the Panther scoring against Westlake came from McAllister, but Clark likes the fact he never really knows from game to game which of his players will be the biggest offensive weapon.

“I don’t know the stats off the top of my head,” he said, “but I would dare to say our leading scorer hasn’t been the same for more than three or four games. So it makes it hard to scout. We have some girls with certain skills you can focus on. But it’s nice when you can put five threats on the court and everybody can dribble and shoot.”

That’s a luxury Mayer wouldn’t mind seeing down the road with his young team. With a loss to Briarcliff on Friday, the Wildcats fell to 6-13 this season and they probably won’t have a long stay in the rapidly-approaching playoffs.

“We’ve had a lot of close games this year,” said Mayer. “I know we might be a lower seed, 15 or 16. But we’re gonna try our best.”

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