BETHANY - Senior guard Audra Droginske come off the Bethany College bench to score 13 of her team-high 15 points in the second half to fuel a furious rally that came up short as the Bison dropped a 69-61 decision to nationally ranked Denison University during Tuesday night's mutual NCAA Division III season opener at Hummel Field House.
Droginske, the former Wheeling Central sharpshooter and intense defender, went 3-for-3 behind the 3-point arc and 3 of 4 from 2-point range as Bethany reduced a 19-point deficit to 66-59 with 59 seconds remaining in a game that the 12th-ranked Big Red led from wire-to-wire.
''Audra's been a very good player for us the last two years,'' Bethany coach Rebecca Upton said. ''She is very fundamental, a big-time scoring threat and plays good defense coming off our bench.
''I really don't know what her role is going to be. Things change depending on who were are playing. She's going to get a lot of minutes either way.''
Denison, returning four starters from a team that finished 28-1 and turned in the first perfect regular season in school history, relied on its powerful inside game to build an early lead and stave off repeated Bethany comeback attempts. Big Red scored 38 points in the paint, getting many of these baskets during the first five minutes of each half.
Jane Windler's nice move to the hoop and transition bucket was followed by Serafina Nuzzo's close in shot off the glass that sent Denison off to a 6-0 lead, Bethany finally got on the scoreboard when Kayla Taormina's got inside for a two-pointer 2:26 into the game.
Big Red continued to pound the ball inside while opening a 12-2 advantage at the 15:47 mark.
It was 20-8 10 minutes into the first half before the Bison finally showed some offensive life. Three-pointers from Renee Shepherd and Taylor Verrico sparked a brief rally that closed the gap to 24-19 but Denison went up by a dozen points before Taormina's steal and layup helped Bethany crawl back within 37-27 at the half.
Following the break, the visitors resumed its inside assault getting two driving layups from Nuzzo and Kyli Parker's turnaround shot to open the lead to 45-29 before Droginske nailed her first triple.
''I think we did a good job of taking the ball inside the first part of the game and again early in the second half probably because we were fresh both times," Denison coach Sara Lee said. ''As we got tired we stopped passing it around and took too many outside shots."
Trailing 53-34 with 14:26 to play after Nicole Coggins nailed a short jumper for Denison, the Bison slowly battled back.
Katelyn Hackathorn, held scoreless in the first half because of some early foul problems, scored from underneath off a nice pass from Shepherd, then Droginske found an opening to the glass for a layup that trimmed the Bethany deficit to 15.
Anne Wilson's steal and pass to the top of the circle found Shepherd open for a 3-pointer which the former Magnolia standout buried putting the score at 53-41 with still 11:12 to play. Unfortunately, Shepherd drew her fourth personal foul a few seconds later and had to take a seat on the bench as Denison regained a comfortable lead.
Alyx Ingram's free throw halted the 8-0 Bethany run and Nuzzo followed up by draining Denison's only triple, extending the lead back to 57-41. Bethany later trailed by 18 at 61-43 after Jessica Grzybowski's easy hoop from within 3 feet.
The Bison retaliated with a 16-5 run that was sparked by two more triples and a driving layup from Droginske putting the deficit at 66-59 with less than a minute to play. Bethany had a couple of opportunities to get even closer but couldn't get it done. Grzybowski's basket and Gretchen Staubach's free throw came ahead of Wilson's 2-pointer that concluded the scoring.
''It was kind of a tough start and I think we let our nerves show very much this being the first game of the year," Upton said. ''Hopefully, we're going to be a good basketball team but we've got some issues to talk about after (Tuesday), turnovers being our No. 1 topic." Bethany had 17 turnovers in the first half alone and 27 for the game.
Last night's opponent also had a lot to do with the Bison's problems hanging on to the basketball as veteran Big Red squad played aggressively on both ends of the floor.
''Maybe not now, but I think Denison is going to be better than they were last year when they went 28-1,'' Upton sad. '' I think they have the potential to be one of the top teams (Division III) in the nation.''
Big Red's top two scorers were the silk-shooting Nuzzo with 17 points and Christina Myers, a non-starter, added 12 tallies.
''We played hard and it definitely helped to get out of our gym and go up against a good team like Bethany," Lee said. ''I saw some nice things and some other things we need to work on. Our expectations are still very high although we lost an All-American and another senior who also was a very good player.
''What I like best right now is we have lot of depth, in fact, more depth than we had last year. We just have to figure out our rotation which shouldn't take us too long.''
Supporting Droginske in the Bethany scoring was Taormina with 14 points. The hustling Shepherd had nine points and eight rebounds as the Lady Bison won the battle underneath the glass, 36-25.
Bethany 82, Allegheny 60
MEADVILLE, Pa. - Led by senior British Alexander's 19 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, the Bethany men's basketball team outscored Allegheny by 20 points in the second half in a mutual season opener.
Four different players notched double-digit points for Bethany, which shot 50 percent in the second half and committed only six turnovers in the victory. Alexander had another solid all-around night with the 19 points and his dozen boards included five on the offensive end. James Barton was next on the list with 18 points, followed closely by Reece Mabery with 16 points and four assists and Nick Wilcox, who chipped in 13 points and six steals.