STEUBENVILLE - A talented Wheeling Park girls' basketball team entered the Crimson Center in Steubenville on Thursday and walked away with a 71-57 victory. But the game was much closer than the final score indicated with Steubenville keeping the score close throughout the first half and into the second.
''I expected the effort we gave,'' Steubenville coach Phil Casinelli said. ''I truly expect us not to give up. I truly expected to play tough. I expected us to hustle and leave everything on the floor.
''I didn't expect us to struggle so much rebounding. I didn't expect us to shoot as poorly from the free-throw line.
''I do expect to win with this team. I knew it was going to a take a lot against Park, a near perfect game, but I have faith in this team.''
The experienced Wheeling Park squad was in control throughout the first quarter. Big Red continued to battle but the Patriots held an 18-13 advantage as the quarter came to a close.
Initially, Steubenville struggled on the defensive end. Big Red was scrambling as Wheeling Park hit multiple back door cuts for easy baskets. Haley Robb gave Steubenville fits in the lane scoring nine of her 17 total points during the opening frame.
''It's very difficult to defend when the team your playing is a lot quicker than you are,'' Casinelli said. ''That was the key. Plus, they can shoot. You can't overplay them because of their quickness, but you can't sag off into the lane because they can pull up and shoot.
''They have shooters and quickness, and that's a deadly combination.''
The second quarter was another matter entirely.
Big Red adjusted. Steubenville scapped and fought for the ball. The team played the passing lanes. It challenged shots. As a result, it held Wheeling Park to 12 points in the frame.
Big Red countered with a shooting spree from the ''Ecuadorian Assassin'' Veronica Orellana. Orellana, a foreign exchange student, went crazy from behind the arc. The senior hit four 3-pointers in the first half, including one as the buzzer sounded indicating halftime. Orellana led Big Red with 19 points.
The score was knotted 30-30 at intermission.
The third quarter proved the difference. Wheeling Park doubled up the Patriots 22-11 in the frame.
"Offensively, we got ourselves a little more organized," Wheeling Park coach Meredith Dailer said. ''The girls have been raring to go for our first ball game. We were trying to force it a little bit on offense. In the second half, we settled ourselves down and got some good looks at the basket. That was really the difference on that end.
''Defensively, we picked up the pressure a little bit. We created some turnovers and pressured their main scorers. That seemed to work.''
Big Red continued to chip away at the lead, closing it to seven points in the fourth quarter, but it didn't prove enough. Wheeling Park left the Crimson Center with its first victory of the season.
Emily Puskarich led the Patriots with 20 points. Krista Crawshaw contributed 16 tallies.
Emiley Maslowski complemented Orellana with 17 points for Big Red. Hannah Meyer added 15.