By Jeremy Balan
With a mixture of talented youth and senior leadership, University High School’s girls basketball team may have the recipe for a Bay Counties League West championship — and maybe more.
After dropping their first game of the season, the Red Devils have rattled off five consecutive wins, the most recent being a 52-46 come-from-behind victory over visiting International on Saturday.
University (5-1) trailed after every quarter except the fourth and erased a 40-35 deficit with a 10-1 run to end the game.
“Tonight, in the second half, they’ve played the best I’ve seen all year,” said first-year University head coach Jason Montana. “It’s great to see the improvement and they’re really starting to believe in each other.”
With International keying on University standout senior center Amelia King, sharpshooting guard Katie Lo took advantage of the open looks. The freshman scored a team-high 20 points, including a 3-pointer to give the Red Devils a 47-45 lead with 2:39 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“She’s played club ball and it’s kind of her role [to make big shots] on that team as well,” Montana said of Lo. “She’s had a couple of big games this year, and she still makes some of those freshman mistakes, but it’s good to have her.”
King, who averaged 18 points coming into the game, still scored 15 points, but was blanketed every time she stepped on the floor by International senior guard Denia Ebersole.
Significantly smaller than the 6-foot-1 King, Ebersole limited King’s touches while also playing point guard for the Jaguars (1-3) on offense.
“I’d put her on any post player out there, just because of her mentality,” said International head coach Charlene Murphy. “If she’s undersized or not as fast as who she’s guarding, she always figures out a way to compete. She played a hell of a game defensively.”
As the game progressed, however, the Red Devils found better ways to get King involved and she took advantage of the limited opportunities, connecting on over 66 percent of her shots from the floor.
“We’re trying to find that happy medium,” Montana said. “There’s times when we don’t look at her at all and there’s times we try to force it to her, so we’re still trying to figure it out. Teams have been doing some different things [to defend] her, so it’s been hard to teach on the fly, but this is the first game they really picked it up.”
Ebersole, International’s leading scorer from last season, still may not be fully healthy after missing the last two games and the entire week’s practices due to an injury. The senior was limited to nine points, but fellow guard Natalie Kelly picked up the slack early for the Jaguars.
The sophomore scored a team-high 20 points, but none came in the crucial fourth quarter, where the Jaguars were limited to just six total points.
“Our youth is [showing] and we’re trying to figure out our identity right now,” Murphy said. “The season is still early and we’ve scheduled hard. I would have liked to have the win tonight, but February is when it really counts.”
Katie Lo — 20
Amelia King — 15
Kayla Symanovich — 8
Chloe Hoeber — 2
Alana Zack — 2
Natalie Kelly — 20
Shayna Mehta — 11
Denia Ebersole — 9
Three players tied with 2 points