Bridgeport’s Big 3 Lead Way

UHRICHSVILLE – Bridgeport got its wish Wednesday night.

After easily dispatching Beallsville, 85-29, in the opening game of the Ohio Division IV girls’ basketball sectional tournament at Claymont High School, the Bulldogs were hoping Frontier would do the same to Malvern in the nightcap, thus setting up a much-anticipated rematch.

The Cougars, who claimed the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Class 2A title Saturday by handing Bridgeport (22-1) its lone loss, had to go into overtime before outlasting the Hornets, 67-61. They’ll meet Feb. 20 back at Claymont High School, with the tip scheduled for 6 p.m.

“The girls really wanted another shot at Frontier,” Bridgeport coach Rob Zitzelsberger said. “They want to show everyone that they are a better team than the one that played last weekend.”

But first the Bulldogs had to take care of the business at hand, that being the undermanned Blue Devils who they had rolled past twice during the regular season.

No problem.

With Bridgeport’s ‘Big 3’ of sophomore Caitlyn Kroll (22) and seniors Nicole Smolenak (18) and Maclaine Murad (15) combining for 55 points, the state-ranked Bulldogs won going away.

“I was pleased with the way we’ve played since the loss,” Zitzelsberger saidd. “The girls have come out with some fire in their eyes.”

The Bulldogs’ fourth-year coach has also been preaching to his girls to shoot the ball. They listened to the tune of 80 attempts, of which they made 37.

“That’s good. We survive by that,” he said of the shot total. “We have to shoot the basketball. It makes us rebound and makes other things happen.”

\Bridgeport led 25-8 after one quarter before upping the margin to 33-16 at the half.

Kroll scored 11 of her game-high 22 in the first half, and then tacked on 11 more in the third quarter. She, along with Murad and Smolenak, exited the game early in the fourth quarter.

In addition to racking up the points, they also teamed for 30 rebounds, 14 steals and a dozen assists. Kroll had a 13 boards and five steals, while Murad pulled down 10 rebounds, charted six steals and handed out three assists. Smolenak finished with seven rebounds, five assists and a trio of steals.

Dicey Stewart and Talitha Bedford each scored 11 points for Beallsville. They also divided 16 rebounds.

“I told our girls coming in that we had nothing to lose and they had everything to lose,” first-year Beallsville coach Ty English said. “There for a minute it was 6-4, but then they kicked it in.

“There’s a saying that if you play a team 100 times, there’s always that chance you could be them once or twice. I don’t know that we could beat them one time. They’re that much better than we are.”