Skvarka Comes Up Large

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Amber Skvarka couldn’t have written a better script for her final collegiate basketball game.

With her Ohio University Eastern team trailing top-seeded Ohio University Lancaster by two points and time not on its side in the 35th annual Ohio Regional Campus women’s state championship game, the lone Panthers senior took matters into her own hands on the Health and Physical Education Center floor.

Literally.

Dribbling the ball upcourt with the clock ticking inside 20 seconds in overtime, the former Martins Ferry product drove to the basket and was fouled as the ball glanced off the window and tickled the twine to tie the hotly contested game at 80-80 with 15.5 seconds remaining.

Following a timeout by the Cougars (21-9) in an attempt to ice Skvarka, she calmly meshed the free throw to give the second-seeded Panthers (22-7) the one-point lead.

OU Lancaster had two good looks at the basket in the waning seconds, but Kristina Velkovich pulled down the last rebound of the season as the buzzer sounded, touching off a delirious celebration by the Panthers and their faithful with an 82-80 victory to claim the title.

”That was definitely a big basket,” Skvarka said. ”But I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”

As for the free throw?

”There was a lot of pressure on me because I’m not the greatest foul shooter,” she admitted. ”But I knew it wasn’t an option to miss that one.”

OUE coach E.J. Schodzinski couldn’t have been any happier for his four-year standout.

”This is like a dream come true for her,” he said. ”A storybook ending. She’s had her ups-and-downs over her four years, but this is something she can remember 10-20 years down the road.”

Deadlocked at 70-70 after 40 minutes, the game was knotted at 72-72 and 74-74 before Burke, who was named the Final Four Most Valuable Player, gave the hosts a 76-74 advantage.

OU Lancaster freshman Carlisha Mullins netted a triple to put the Cougars on top, 77-76, at the halfway mark of the 5-minute extra session.

Allie Doan, who came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points, drove the baseline and scored to put OUE ahead again, 78-77, but after back-to-back turnovers by both teams, OU Lancaster’s Jenna Reynolds canned her fifth bonus bomb for an 80-78 reading.

Following an OUE miss, OU Lancaster had several opportunities to put the game away, but came up empty on each try which set the stage for Skvarka’s late heroics.

”I’m so happy for these girls,” Schodzinski said. ”We made some adjustments on offense at the half, but we stayed with our base man-to-man defense because (OUL) shoots too well from the perimeter to play a zone.

”I didn’t want to give in to that , so we stayed with our man-to-man and it worked.”

Just like Saturday’s thrilling double-overtime victory against OSU-Newark, the Panthers trailed at the half, and fell behind by 12, 48-36, with 16:46 left to play before staging their second consecutive dramatic comeback.

Coincidentally, it was Skvarka’s long-range shooting that jumpstarted the rally. She drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 48-42. Three minutes later, Savannah Burke, who surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career in Saturday’s victory, knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner that pushed OUE to a 51-50 lead.

Skvarka’s two free throws with 35.4 seconds left in regulation gave the hosts a 70-65 advantage, but the Cougars wouldn’t go away.

Reynolds, who finished with 17 points, cut the deficit to 70-68, and after a missed free throw by OUE, Mullins hit a floater in the lane with 8.8 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 70-70 and send it into overtime.

Burke backed Doan’s 22-point effort with 21 points. Natalie Perzanowski, despite fouling out with 4:39 left in regulation, added 14 and Skvarka 13. Mullins had a game-high 22 points for OUL, while Chelsea Eccard added 20. Lacey Elliott had 15.