LEWIS CENTER – Olentangy Liberty junior Gina Santangelo came off the bench and pulled down nine rebounds, hit a pair of threes and scored eight points to help the Patriots win a 46-39 slugfest at rival Olentangy Friday night in OCC-Buckeye play.
Santangelo was in Liberty’s starting lineup before the team went to Orlando, Florida over the holiday break.
“It was really good for me,” she said. “I know I needed that and it pushed me in practice. These past few days at practice have been the toughest for me. I liked it – it was good for me.”
She was struggling with confidence and her passivity led Liberty coach Sam Krafty to make a change – inserting senior Betsy Merritt into the lineup.
“I was happy for Betsy because I know how hard she works,” Santangelo said. “If it was going to be anyone – definitely give it to Betsy because she works so hard in practice and definitely helps us all the time.”
It wasn’t a punishment. Krafty hoped the “change of scenery” would do Santangelo some good.
“The change in lineups had nothing to do with our belief in Gina,” Krafty said. “I still believe in her, she can still win her spot back, she was instrumental tonight and she’s had a great response to it the last couple of weeks.”
It started with hustle for Santangelo, who pulled down seven of her rebounds in the second half.
“In practice, two days ago, we were doing rebounding drills the entire time,” Santangelo said. “We just shoved each other around and competed with each other – it was great. It’s tough and it’s a long practice, but that’s how I get better at it.”
Liberty used a 9-1 run to take control late in the third quarter. Teegan Pifher scored on a back-door cut off a Kelly Levering inbound pass to give Liberty a 28-27 lead with 3:17 left in the frame.
Santangelo scored all of her eight points in the fourth quarter, hitting a pair of threes to help Liberty extend its lead as high as seven.
“I felt relieved,” she said. “All that hard work paid off. Everything came together for me.”
The Patriots used a 9-0 run to take control in the first quarter. Levering hit from outside to give them a 14-6 lead at the end of the period.
Olentangy trailed by nine early in the second quarter. Bridget Stafford hit a three and followed with a layup and Dani Beidelman scored on back-to-back possessions, the latter a put-back to give Olentangy its first lead at 19-17 with 2:07 left in the half.
“We defended our hearts out,” Olentangy coach Kate Cummings said. “We struggled to score early, but then we went on that little run and all of a sudden our confidence came – we started to find our flow.”
“This was the way our first game started,” Krafty said. “We came out hot and they called a timeout and had the lead by the end of the first quarter. They’re very well-coached and they play very hard.”
Meg Spohn knocked down a couple of free throws with four seconds left to give Olentangy a 22-20 lead at the break.
Pifher led with 11 points and seven boards and Levering added eight points for the Patriots (10-4, 5-1), who have won seven of their last eight games.
Olivia Margolies had 14 points and seven rebounds, Bridget Stafford added 10 points and Spohn chipped in six points and six boards to lead Olentangy (7-7, 2-4).
“I’m thrilled with our effort, our energy and our will and desire,” Cummings said. “Where we struggle is where another team goes on a run, do we have an offensive answer to that?
“Normally – because I’m a defensive coach – I would switch up the defense as an answer to it. But we were expending so much energy – we couldn’t really press and trap and do the things you would normally do to break a run.”
Next up, Liberty travels to Dublin Scioto in non-league play Wednesday night and Olentangy is off until it hosts Westerville South in league play Friday night. Both are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.