Ironton 51, Athens 32

Athens senior Harper Bennett makes a move during Wednesday’s season opener against Ironton. Ironton made 11 3-pointers in a 51-32 win over Athens.

Wednesday’s season opener didn’t go the Athens Bulldogs’ way, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm head coach Phil Koska has for his veteran squad.

“I’m just excited about this season, to be honest,” Koska said after Athens fell to the Ironton Tigers, 51-32, at McAfee Gymnasium. “We have plenty of bodies and everybody’s still learning, but they’re starting to see things in the game. It just takes that time and experience. I’m looking forward to this season, I’m excited.”

Koska, in his second season at Athens’ head coach, has reason for excitement. The Bulldogs have seven seniors on their varsity roster, including five in the starting lineup against Ironton.

The group of experienced upperclassmen have been building for this season.

“I’m super excited about having all the seniors,” Koska said. “They’ve helped bring in the freshmen that we have playing. I’m looking forward to a good season.”

The Bulldogs (0-1) were close with Ironton (1-0) until the Tigers’ 3-point shooting finally gave them some separation.

Athens trailed 27-18 after three quarters and was still in the game until the Tigers sank six 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the final quarter.

By the time Isabel Morgan made the sixth and final 3-pointer of the fourth quarter, Ironton had extended its advantage to 47-22.

“We knew they were going to shoot 3s,” Koska said. “The way our defense is designed is to close out hard on the 3s and we just got tired.”

The Tigers made 11 of 27 3-pointers for the game against Athens’ zone defense. Morgan was the main culprit, as she made 6 of 11 from 3-point range.

Morgan led Ironton with 18 points, all coming on high-arcing long-range bombs.

“We knew she had a high shot and she’ll pull from anywhere,” Koska said. “That’s why we were trying to close out so hard and run her off the line. They have no inside game, so I was willing to give up a few layups, but we just couldn’t run them off the line hard enough to get them away from that.”

The Tigers only made 8 of 25 attempts from 2-point range.

The Bulldogs’ defense did keep them in the game, as Ironton was just 10 of 37 from the field and 5 of 20 from 3-point range through the first three quarters.

Athens wasn’t able to capitalize offensively. The Bulldogs were just 26.2 percent from the field, making 11 of 42 attempts with 24 turnovers.

“We were not attacking or being aggressive like our offense is designed to do,” Koska said. “We just settled. I think it’s just the fatigue of the first game and you get that overwhelming excitement in the beginning and then you’re running on adrenaline.”

Koska said it’s mostly fixable things for the offense. For example, Athens made just 7 of 21 free throw attempts, otherwise it could have been a tighter game before Ironton’s 3-point barrage.

“I don’t know how many (free throws) we missed, but we missed a lot,” Koska said. “Those are little things we can fix and that puts us in the game.”

The first half was a defensive battle. Athens was ahead 11-8 and 12-11, but didn’t score for the final 6:31 of the first half.

Morgan made a 3-pointer to give Ironton a 14-12 lead with 5:51 left in the second quarter, and neither team scored the rest of the half.

The Bulldogs never tied the game in the second half, but trailed just 16-15 after Harper Bennett’s field goal on a feed from Kianna Benton in the first minute of the third quarter.

Ironton freshman Peyton Deer answered with a 3-pointer on the other end, starting a 9-0 run that allowed the Tigers to lead 25-15.

Deer had nine points and two assists, as she made three of her four 3-point tries.

Athens never fully recovered from Ironton’s third-quarter burst. Morgan’s 3-pointer opened the fourth, giving the Tigers their biggest least to that point, 30-18.

Deer followed with two more 3-pointers, the final extending Ironton’s lead out to 38-19.

Thanks to the six consecutive 3-pointers, Ironton outscored Athens 20-4 in the first 3 minutes and 36 seconds of the final quarter.

Koska said afterwards that he should have subbed more in the second half, a lesson he said he’ll learn going forward.

“I told the girls, that’s on me,” he said. “I should have made some substitutions later in the game in the third quarter — tried to give us a little burst and freshen our legs back up. It’s an adjustment on me as well.”

Benton led Athens with eight points, while Bailey Cordray-Davis and Haylie Mills each had seven points. Mills added 10 rebounds and a blocked shot while Bennett had four points, four rebounds, three steals, two assists and a blocked shot.

The Bulldogs won’t have to wait long to get back on the court. They host Lancaster at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in another tough non-league game. They travel to Logan on Monday before opening Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division play on Thursday in a home game with Nelsonville-York.

Athens won at Ironton to start the season a year ago. The Bulldogs weren’t able to duplicate the feat on Wednesday, but Koska was ready to get back to work immediately afterwards.

“I’m not terribly disappointed,” he said. “I feel like we got some positive things in there. It’s just little tweaks here and there that will really help us when we get another practice in.”

Ironton 51, Athens 32

Ironton 7 7 13 24 — 51

Athens 9 3 6 14 — 32

IRONTON 51 (1-0)

Evan Williams 2 1-2 5, Teegan Carpenter 2 0-0 5, Mary Lackey 1 0-0 2, Kirsten Williams 3 1-2 8, Isabel Morgan 6 0-0 18, Chasity Cecil 2 0-0 4, Peyton Deer 3 0-2 9, Katelyn Cecil 0 0-0 0, Emerson White 0 0-0 0, Ariyah Freeman 0 0-0 0, Sara Bowen 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 19 2-6 51; 3-point field goals: 11 (Morgan 6, Deer 3, Carpenter, Kirsten Williams 1 apiece)

ATHENS 32 (0-1)

Bailey Cordray-Davis 2 1-2 7, Harper Bennett 2 0-4 4, Haylie Mills 3 1-5 7, Kesi Federspiel 1 0-2 2, Kianna Benton 1 5-8 8, Annika Benton 1 0-0 2, Emily Zuber 1 0-0 2, Asa Holcombe 0 0-0 0, Emma Molde 0 0-0 0, Annie Moulton 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 11 7-21 32; 3-point field goals: 3 (Cordray-Davis 2, Kianna Benton 1)


Field goals — Ironton 19-52 (.365), 3-point field goals 11-27 (.407); Athens — 11-42 (.262), 3-point field goals 3-14 (.214); Free throws — Ironton 2-6 (.333), Athens 7-21 (.333); Rebounds — Ironton 33 (Kirsten Williams 9), Athens 37 (Mills 10); Assists — Ironton 16 (Evan Williams 7), Athens 5 (Bennett 2); Blocks — Ironton 0, Athens 3 (Bennett, Mills, Zuber 1 apiece); Turnovers — Ironton 18, Athens 24; Steals — Ironton 14 (Carpenter 5), Athens 8 (Bennett, Holcombe 3 apiece); Team fouls — Ironton 14, Athens 9; JV game — Ironton 23, Athens 21.

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