For the second straight season, the Pitt-Johnstown women’s basketball team saw its season end at the hands of Charleston in the first round of the WVIAC tournament.
It goes without saying that Lady Cats coach Sasha Palmer was disappointed after her squad’s 72-64 loss to the Golden Eagles Monday night at the Sports Center.
At the same time, the Pitt-Johnstown coach sees potential for the team’s improvement with a dedicated offseason of work.
“I just said to them in the locker room ‘There’s nothing we can do now. All we can do is improve as individuals,’” Palmer said. “Players ran the offseason, you gotta show your teammates how much you care. You have to come back better, stronger. There’s nothing we can do, we can watch film. Coaches have to improve, too. But that’s all we can do, the players have to take it upon themselves.”
The loss ends Pitt-Johnstown’s season with a 14-12 mark. Charleston (15-12) advances to face top-seeded Glenville State on Wednesday in the WVIAC quarterfinal round.
Pitt-Johnstown, which held an 11-3 lead early following a Nicole Carman 3-pointer 3:06 into the game, led through a majority of the opening half with the lead shifting from its apex of eight points to a trio of ties late in the half. A Jessi Cowden jumper in the lane with 3:17 to go in the half knotted the score at 28 while serving a huge blow to the Lady Cats’ emotions when Grace Hyland, who was defending Cowden on the play, crumpled to the floor with an apparent knee injury.
The Golden Eagles surged ahead following the injury timeout with a 3-pointer by LeAnne Ross igniting a 7-2 spurt over the next two minutes. A Kaitlynn Fratz bucket helped Pitt-Johnstown cut the lead to 35-32 heading into intermission.
“We tried to do it for (Hyland), she just leads us defensively,” Palmer said. “It hurt us. I went to a zone defense, the man (defense) wasn’t working ... I don’t know. I just never thought we were going to lose our last three at home. This hurts.”
Kelsey Sleighter’s 3-pointer pulled the Lady Cats even just as the second half began. From there, Charleston regained the lead on Tianni Kelly’s layup and never lost it. Pitt-Johnstown cut the deficit to 43-42 on a Jasmine Harper layup, but Charleston immediately replied on a Ross 3-pointer. A Kayla Dozier layup followed by an inside bucket from Chrissy Kier opened a 17-6 spurt that concluded when Kali Cuttaia’s bucket in the paint ran the lead to 60-48 with 7:35 to go.
During a Pitt-Johnstown timeout – called after the Cuttaia basket – Hyland returned to the Pitt-Johnstown bench on crutches.
Her teammates responded.
A pair of 3-pointers by Sleighter and a Harper bucket evaporated the Charleston lead to six points before Rachel Johnson and Fratz each scored from the floor to make it 62-60.
The Charleston response came on layups by Nichole Perry and Cowden, running the Golden Eagles’ lead to six points with 1:48 remaining. Harper’s lay-in made it 66-62 before Pitt-Johnstown started to put Charleston on the free-throw line.
“We cut it to two, then (Charleston) went to right-handed layups both times,” Palmer said.
“They only go right and we talked about it, talked about it and we went over their offense. It’s just a focus of mine to keep the team here mentally for 40 minutes and we have to figure it out for next year.”
Charleston closed out the win by going 6 of 8 from the line over the last 58 seconds.
Cuttaia accrued a double-double in the win with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds. Cowden netted 14 points; Kelly scored 12, and Perry notched 10 for the Golden Eagles.
Sleighter led the Lady Cats with 16 points; Harper, who was named the WVIAC Rookie of the Year on Sunday, scored 15 points, and Fratz – a first-team all-WVIAC performer - had 14. Johnson’s 11 rebounds were a game-high.