WHEELING - Depth played a major role in Wheeling Jesuit University's 59-56 season-opening women's basketball victory against visiting Slippery Rock (Pa.) Tuesday night at the Alma Grace McDonough Center.
With the Cardinals struggling to put the ball in the basket during the early going, Coach Debbie Buff brought sophomores Kelsey Pacholke and Lucy DeFruscio off the bench and they quickly provided some much-needed instant offense. Pacholke scored 14 of her game-leading 18 points in the opening half while DeFruscio netted her first three shots on her way to an 11-point evening.
Pacholke, the 5-foot-11 forward out of Eastlake (Ohio) North High School, also was a force undern the glass as she led everyone with 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive end of the floor.
Overall, 45 of Wheeling Jesuit's 59 points came from non-starters with Jaila Bryant and Jamie Sobczak providing nine and seven points, respectively.
''Really?" Coach Buff asked afer being informed of the Cardinals bench scoring before she had a chance to check out the box score.
''We started a different group in the second half with Lucy and Kelsey in there because of the lift they gave us in the first half. The girls know that we have 11 players that can compete every day. Our starting lineup really depends on who is producing in practice and what the matchups are every night. This a great luxury that we didn't have last year."
The start of game provided a bad news, good news situation for the Cardinals as they failed to score a point for the first 6:03. Thankfully, The Rock also missed a lot of good opportunities and managed just an 8-0 lead before Pacholke's follow shot finally got Wheeling on the scoreboard.
''At the beginning we were just a little nervous," Buff acknowledged. ''We had a lot of easy shots and did not knock them down."
The Cardinals finally got untracked with 3-pointers from Sobczak and DeFruscio, keying a 14-7 rally that saw the hosts take the lead for the first time at 16-15 on Pacholke's lay-in with 6:45 left in the half.
The lead changed hands three more times the rest of the half before WJU went up 28-25 on Pacholke's two free throws. Slippery Rock (1-1) got even before the horn when D'Asia Chambers drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
''I told them at halftime that the nerves were gone and we have to play our game," Buff said. ''In the second half, I thought we played a lot better on both ends. Our zone defense was really good and we did a better job on the boards. That is a very good rebounding team and we outrebounded them by four (48-44).
''When they went zone in the second half, we moved the ball a lot better, and I think our fitness had a lot to do with some of the runouts we got in the last seven minutes," Buff said.
The score continued to see-saw back-and-forth after halftime with the lead changing hands seven times and score tied on four occasions. Trailing 49-46 at the 6:55 mark, Wheeling ran off nine straight points to open the lead to 55-49. Lubinsky's 3-pointer tied the score, followed by a sparkling rebound and coast-to-coast drive by Taneka Leiws that put the Cardinals ahead to stay. Another transition basket by Breanna Butler and Bryant's hoop culminated the rally.
Slippery Rock then pulled to within 55-54 with 3:01 to play after Frost's turnaround shot in the lane and a 3-pointer by Chambers, her second 3-pointer of the game.
Lewis then broke open for a layup. Both teams missed some opportunities before Bryant's free throw put the Wheeling advantage at 58-54. Brown's transition basket after a steal of a home run pass attempt closed The Rock's deficit to 58-56 with 12 seconds to play.
Emily Robinson's free throw just 2.2 seconds from the end concluded the scoring. Slippery Rock got off a 3-point shot from about 30 feet that was short just ahead of the horn.
The visitors had four double-figure scorers led by Chambers' 14 points. Brown finish with 12 while Jazmyne Frost and Danielle Garroutte added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
''We're still young but this is a very promising team," Buff said.
The Cardinals roster entering this season is without a senior and includes three juniors, thee sophomores and five freshman.
''They are passionate about the game, and I like the early chemistry I've seen," Buff explained. ''Playing a Division I team in Ohio University and taking them to overtime in our scrimmage was really a sign of the promise we have this year.
''I was especially proud of the effort. Our defense locked down and shut down their scorers late in the game when we needed those stops."
Penn State-Beaver 90, OU Eastern 58
ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Brooke Mulneix scored 14 points as Penn State-Beaver downed OU Eastern in the Panthers' season opener.
Alex Kuhn paced OUE with 21 points, while Kelsey Holloway added 20.