BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – You never get a second chance to make a first impression. But sometimes you do get a second chance to get off to a good start.
On Wednesday night at Lou Sorrentino Gymnasium, the Lebanon Valley College women’s basketball team put a best foot forward in its Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth opener by downing Stevenson 66-60. Following a somewhat lackluster beginning, the Flying Dutchmen gained control of the outcome in the third quarter, before holding off a spirited Mustang rally in the fourth.
The triumph was LVC’s third in its last four outings and lifted it to 3-4 overall. Stevenson slipped to 2-3 on the year.
“They’re all important,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Amy Sokaitis. “It was our first conference game and you want to start well. You want to feel good about yourself.
“We started the season 0-3, but now we feel a lot better,” continued Sokaitis. “I think we had a tough opening weekend, but we learned a lot.”
After trailing most of the first half, the Flying Dutchmen came out of the halftime locker room on fire.
Midway through the third quarter, Lebanon Valley went on a 11-3 tear – courtesy of six Emily Mealey points, three free throws from Anne Lehr and a Jen Eck bucket – to open a 44-36 advantage. A minute later, Morgan Bamberger drilled a three-pointer to push the Flying Dutchmen lead to nine points.
“We started a little lax,” said Sokaitis. “It was a little nerves, not a lack of effort. But then we settled in.
“We talked (at halftime) about what they (the Mustangs) were doing defensively, and how to counter it,” added Sokaitis. “I think having three or four different options in the post makes us a challenge.”
A 12-3 Stevenson spurt sliced the Lebanon Valley lead to 53-52 with less than five minutes to go. But the Flying Dutchmen responded with a 10-3 run, on scores from Lehr, Mealey, Ashley Kline and Caroline Scarff, to re-open a 63-55 advantage, with 2:28 left.
“It was huge,” said Sokaitis of not relinquishing the lead. “It was their (her players’) ability to fight and dig in. I think we got three stops before we got a basket. Then when we got a basket, we used that to carry the momentum.”
Lehr finished with a game-high 27 points, on eight field goals and 11-for-15 free throwing. Mealey supported her with 15 points and six boards.
Lebanon Valley forced 26 Stevenson turnovers.
“Anne is our captain, and she’s been able to do it for us in every game, one way or another,” said Sokaitis. “But we have a lot of young girls who see a lot of minutes.
“I’m really pleased with how we fought,” Sokaitis added. “We made plays. We’re making the extra hustle plays. We defend with a lot of intensity. We came out with a mission and we executed that mission. They (her players) really dug into the game plan.”
Early on, the sides traded baskets, until the Mustangs tallied the last five points of the opening quarter and the initial basket of the second period to establish a 15-8 lead. The Mustangs matched that lead 4:13 before halftime, at 22-14.
“I thought we played well defensively,” said Sokaitis. “But we have to do an even better job of defending. But we played defense together.”
The Flying Dutchmen managed to forge a 27-all tie at halftime, on the strength of a 13-5 spurt late in the second stanza. Lehr dropped in six points during the run, while Kline nailed a three-pointer, Mealey scored a deuce and Molly Galvin converted a pair of charity tosses.
“We want to get into the conference tournament and see what happens,” said Sokaitis. “That’s how it works around here.
“We’ve got to keep getting better and better defensively,” added Sokaitis. “On offense, I think we’ve got to do a good job of taking care of the ball. If we can limit some opponents’ possessions, we have a pretty good chance of winning some games.”
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