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Steubenville, Harrison clash in 4A

• Big Red seeking their second consecutive title against first-time entrant Lady Huskies

February 14, 2014
By SETH STASKEY - Times Leader Sports Editor , Times Leader

Steubenville and Harrison Central didn't meet in the regular season. They did, however, scrimmage way back in November.

Both Phil Casinelli and Nick Yourkovich had a feeling they might get the chance to play one another, but both also knew it wouldn't be easy.

As we fast forward to the present, both coaches were correct and the stakes are high as they prepare for their first meeting.

The Lady Big Red and Lady Huskies - the top two seeds in Class 4A - will meet today at 12:30 p.m. for the OVAC championship as part of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Girls Basketball Championships at Ohio University Eastern's Health and Physical Education Center.

Steubenville comes in with a 19-1 record and cast in the role of defending champion after it beat Martins Ferry in last year's title tilt.

"With everyone coming back (from 2013), we definitely had this as a goal," Casinelli said. "We're excited to have this opportunity to play for a championship again."

Big Red reached the title game after easily dispatching Oak Glen during Monday's semifinal inside the Crimson Center.

"I thought we played well against Oak Glen," Casinelli said. "We defended well and shot the ball well. That's the way we've played all year. We were able to get out and push the ball and we were solid in the half-court both on offense and defense. I thought we accomplished what we wanted against them."

While Big Red has been to this game before, the Lady Huskies, who are 15-4, are the new girls on the block. They're making their initial appearance in the championship game and are seeking the school's first girls basketball crown.

"(Being here) has sank in a little bit, but it's still really exciting for our girls and our entire school," Yourkovich said. "We're taking it all in and enjoying everything that comes with it. Having said that, however, we're not just satisfied being here. Our goal is to win it."

Steubenville reeled off 17 straight wins to begin the season before falling on the road at Class 3A title game entrant Linsly late last month.

"We were able to take it one game at a time and we didn't get too high on ourselves," Casinelli said. "We didn't play well against Linsly and when you do that against a good team, you get the outcome we did. We didn't get too low with that loss and just bounced back."

The Huskies have also kicked it into high gear since the calendar flipped to 2014. The Lady Huskies' confidence in all aspects has been "through the roof" according to their head coach.

"Our seniors have been the backbone of our team and success," Yourkovich said. "They've really led us and helped us keep it together. We've been playing well down the stretch (of the season) and we're just hoping to keep it going."

The Lady Huskies reached the title game by winning the rubbermatch against Buckeye 8 rival St. Clairsville on Monday in Cadiz.

Though they scrimmages, neither coach is able to put much stock into that. Obviously, it was a scrimmage and secondly it occurred nearly three months ago.

"Both teams are different at this point," Casinelli said. "They've improved since then, and I think we have, too.

Both coaches agreed that the team that's able to get the tempo to its liking will have the best chance to prevail.

"Defense will be the key for us," Yourkovich stressed. "We have to defend in transition and guard the 3-point line. We know Steubenville likes to get out and run, so I feel like if we play more defense in the half court than in transition, we'll be OK."

With senior point guard Emiley Masloski serving as the floor general, Casinelli believes his team is able to dance to all the tunes.

"We've shown that we're able to play in the half-court, but we would like to get out and run," Casinelli said. "Either way, it's going to come down to which team executes the best and which team shoots the ball well."

The aforementioned Masloski, who is a basketball junkie, has scored more than 1,000 points in her career despite battling some injuries the last couple of seasons. Casinelli said she'd play in today's game.

"Masloski is a super basketball player," Yourkovich said. "She's tough and skilled. On top of that, she has the heart of a champion. With the injuries she's battled, most girls wouldn't be playing, but she loves it. We have to know where she is on the floor."

She's just one third of the Steubenville three-headed scoring monster. Masloski is the team's third-leading scorer at 14 points a game.

Sophomore Lysiah Rice has really blossomed as a player this season after a fairly impressive freshman campaign. She averages a double-double at 17 points and 10 rebounds a night.

Senior Mytia Barker is also a go-to-player for Big Red. She nets 16 points a game.

Steubenville has employed a starter-by-committee approach most of the season, according to Casinelli.

"We use an eight-girl rotation," Casinelli said. "Who we start is kind of a game-time decision. The girls have responded well to that."

Sophomore Hannah Masloski and seniors Brittany Bodo, Abby Taylor and Dominique Wilson are also key members of the Lady Big Red rotation.

"I think the fact that they did play without (Emiley) Masloski last year and some this year has kind of helped them because they've established more depth," Yourkovich said. "I really think we match up well."

Harrison Central also goes fairly deep on its bench. Yourkovich doesn't hesitate to play 10 players.

The unquestioned leader for the Lady Huskies is junior post Katie Ellzy. She averages almost 18 points and seven rebounds a game.

"I think, in the last month or so, Katie is really starting to realize how good of a basketball player she can be," Yourkovich said. "She's becoming a little more selfish, so when we throw her the ball, she's looking to score."

Senior Jesse Ledger is another go-to-player for Harrison. She averages nine points a game and shoots 32 percent from deep.

Yourkovich pointed out the work of Shianne Nameth (7.8 points per game), Kara Dunfee (8.3 ppg) and Paige Richards, who has battled back from some injuries, are key contributors.

Off the bench, D.J. Keesey is a solid contributor on the low block. Alexis Yoho, who has made several starts, and Ronna Orr have also been solid options.

"Harrison Central is going to be a real challenge for us," Casinelli said. "They're a good, well-balanced team that's well-coached. We have to rebound well and limit their chances."

After Saturday's game, both teams will begin preparations for Ohio sectional play.

Harrison Central competes in Division III, while Steubenville is in Division II.

The Lady Huskies actually don't begin tournament play until a week from Monday at Dover High School against Monroe.



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