BRIDGEPORT - It's been one long season for Barnesville's Jamie Carpenter.
When his winless Shamrocks surrendered the final 17 points of the first half Thursday night at Bridgeport, it appeared to have gotten a lot longer, and quickly.
However, with nothing to lose, the Green-clad visitors rose to their coach's challenge and roared back from a 23-point deficit midway through the third quarter to tie the game at 44-44 with less than a minute left.
But, it just wasn't meant to be, as the Bulldogs (7-5) used a free throw from Nicole Smolenak with 5.6 ticks on the clock to squeak out a 45-44 victory on Frank Baxter Court inside John J. Havlicek Gymnasium.
"I told them they had one quarter to show me (that they wanted to play),'' Carpenter said. ''I pulled the trigger in the second quarter and sent four freshmen in, and it was up to them (the starters).
"I told them if they went out in the third quarter and showed me that they wanted to do it, then they could stay in, but if not, then I'd take my lumps with the young kids.
"To the girls' credit, they did it. We got it to 14 and continued to fight all the way back from a foul shot there at the end of having the lead."
Barnesville (0-12) tied the game with 30 seconds left when Jessica Hunkler dropped in a short jumper. It was the Rocks' leader who brought them back with 20 of her team-high 22 points in the second half.
Bridgeport turned the ball over with 24.8 showing, but Barnesville missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the 7.4 mark. The ball went out of bounds and was awarded to the Bulldogs.
Smolenak was fouled trying to receive the inbounds pass, much to the dismay of Carpenter, as the clock showed 5.6.
The sterling sophomore calmly dropped in the front end of the two shots, but the second rolled off the rim and into the hands of Barnesville's Marissa Burga, who quickly pushed the ball upcourt to Hunkler, but her 40-footer at the buzzer was off the mark.
Bridgeport played nearly the entire third quarter without its two primary ballhandlers, Smolenak and Tiffany Heckathorn, who were both forced to watch from the bench with four fouls apiece.
"Foul trouble definitely hurt us," Bridgeport coach Rob Zitzelsberger declared. "We didn't have our two ballhandlers in there and it showed. We persevered, but I don't know how."
The Bulldogs had only turned the ball over five times in rolling to a 33-11 halftime lead, but racked up 20 in the second half, including a dozen in the third quarter when Barnesville posted a 14-6 scoring edge. The Shamrocks earned a 19-6 advantage in the fourth quarter, but fell just short.
The difference in the game, in Zitzelsberger's eyes, was the inside play of Brittany Higgenbotham. Although she didn't dent the scoreboard, she pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.
"She cleared the boards every time they did miss in the fourth quarter. Kudos to her," he said.
Smolenak netted 15 of her game-high 26 points in the second quarter. Most of them came after steals on layups. She charted seven steals in the contest, with five of them coming in that quarter.
Bridgeport led 63-43 off the glass. Freshman Briana Massey pulled down nine for the Bulldogs, while Kaitlyn Benda added eight. Higgenbotham Burga led Barnesville with 11 rebounds. Devvyn Yager grabbed nine, while Kayla Stewart charted seven steals, half-dozen coming in the third-quarter rally.
"Hopefully, a game like this will help us get something started,'' Carpenter said. ''It's hard to go in there (the locker room) and see the tears rolling down their faces, especially the seniors.
"I hope it's a so-called character builder, but I'm afraid the cut is getting deeper and deeper and it's starting to hurt even worse."