BELLAIRE - Second-year Bridgeport girls' basketball coach Rob Zitzelsberger has been looking for someone to step up and help sophomore Nicole Smolenak on the offensive end of the floor.
Monday night inside the 'House of Champions', he found a handful that took a major stride towards as the Bulldogs held off a late Bellaire rally for a 59-53 victory.
"That was a total team effort," Zitzelsberger said. "We used six girls, and everyone that played did their job."
Leading 20-19 at halftime, Bridgeport went on a tear in the third quarter, outscoring the Big Reds 24-17 for an 8-point, 44-36, advantage after three periods.
Back-to-back baskets by Kaitlyn Benda and Kari Renzler, the final coming after a steal and coast-to-coast layup, gave the visitors a game-high 12 point margin, 48-36, early in the final frame.
"Benda played really well," Zitzelsberger noted, "and so did Renzler off the bench."
However, Bellaire wasn't about to put the basketball up for the night as it went on a 12-0 run to deadlock the score at 48 with 4:04 on the fourth-quarter clock.
Keying the surge were Myleah Green and Casey Garloch with four points and Katie Fry with one of her four bonus bombs.
But, the youthful Bulldogs, with only one senior on the roster, failed to buckle as they went on a game-ending 11-5 run to seal the deal, which included five charity tosses that kept the hosts at bay.
"We stress knowing what the score is and how much time is left," Zitzelsberger said. "Those are the two most important things as the game winds down."
While the Bulldogs' coach was pleased with the outcome, the same couldn't be said about his counterpart.
"Sure I'm pleased with the way the girls didn't quit and came back, but there was no reason that we had to come back like that," coach Marci Bonar said. "When you can come back 12 points in three minutes, that just goes to show that you didn't have any business being down that many in the first place.
"Yes, I'm proud of the way they hustled and showed heart at the end, but at the same time, they shouldn't have had to do that. If we'd played like that from the beginning, it wouldn't have been a game."
The Bulldogs' backcourt tandem of the aforementioned Smolenak and senior Tiffany Heckathorn combined for 32 of their team's points, with each netting 16. Benda added nine while Brittany Higgenbotham and Renzler evenly divided 16.
Fry led all scorers in the game with 18 for the Big Reds. Garloch added a dozen and Green 11 before she fouled out with just over two minutes remaining.