BRIDGEPORT - When it comes to girls' basketball games in the Ohio Valley, you'd be hard pressed to find one better than the one that unfolded Wednesday evening inside the John J. Havlicek Gymnasium at Bridgeport High School.
Third-seeded Shadyside and second-seeded Bridgeport treated the huge crowd to a dandy.
In the end, however, the deep shooting of talented Tigers senior Karli Bonar proved to be too much for the Bulldogs to overcome as Shadyside punched its ticket to its fourth straight Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls' Basketball Championship game with a 52-49 victory.
"I said when they first started this tournament that it was a great idea because it gave you a tournament atmosphere before the actual sectional tournament begins and (Wednesday night) was definitely a great atmosphere," Shadyside coach Tina Yates said. "We're excited to get out of here with a win. Bridgeport's a really quality team that gave us all we wanted. We were fortunate to just make a few more shots."
Next up for the Tigers (14-7) is a date with top-seeded Wheeling Central in a rematch of last season's 2A title game, which was won by the Maroon Knights. Tip-off is slated for 10 a.m. Saturday at Ohio University Eastern.
Bridgeport, meanwhile, suffered its second loss in 21 outings. The Bulldogs will make a trip to Clay-Battelle a date to be determined next week for the consolation game of the 2A tournament.
"Everybody made fun of our schedule, but we were 19-1 with the same schedule we've played for the three years I've been here," Bridgeport coach Rob Zitzelsberger said. "I think we earned a lot of respect here (Wednesday night). Shadyside has a great program, great coach and a couple of great players. We left it all on the floor. I am proud of the girls and I hope everyone else is, too."
The Bulldogs defended Bonar pretty well for the most part. They challenged her shots and forced her well behind the arc. As it turns out, they played right into the senior sharpshooter's hands. Bonar buried seven 3-pointers, finished with 28 points and, in the process, became the state of Ohio's all-time leading 3-point shooter for her career.
Bonar needed four bonus baskets entering the game and connected on the record-breaker at the 6:52 mark of the third quarter. She ended the third-quarter with a 3-pointer from the left corner, which put her ahead of the boys' record as well.
The University of Findlay-bound sniper opened the fourth with another bomb, giving the Tigers a 42-38 upperhand.
Bridgeport, however, roared back with seven straight points, including a 3-pointer by junior ace Nicole Smolenak, which put the Bulldogs up by three.
The lead was short-lived. Shadyside answered back with a conventional three-point play from Kristen Fijalkowski.
Maclaine Murad put Bridgeport back on top with a bucket on the next trip. Again, Shadyside answered. This time, Bonar put the ball on the deck and blew by the Bulldogs' defense for a layup.
Bridgeport turned it over and Bonar made them pay with her final bonus goal, making it 50-47.
Talented Bridgeport freshman Caitlyn Kroll meshed two at the line, getting her team back within one. However, Shadyside was able to run off nearly 40 seconds before Bridgeport caught the Tigers for a foul, which was just their sixth.
After a few more seconds, Shadyside senior Hayley Holenka cashed in two foul shots, making it 52-49.
Bridgeport threw a baseball pass to halfcourt and the ball was deflected out of bounds off a Tiger. The Bulldogs then in-bounded, got a great look from WNBA range, but the shot rimmed out.
"It looked good when it left her hand," Yates said. "I was wondering why we went for a steal there, but maybe it worked out cause we could have fouled her."
Bonar's scoring was complemented by Holenka, who finished with 10. Kenzi Fielding added eight points.
Bridgeport was well balanced. Smolenak had 23 to lead the way. Kroll added 14 points and 10 boards. Murad finished with nine points.