Career night for Ashleigh Connor carries Mt. Lebanon past Hempfield

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Monday, December 16, 2019 | 11:11 PM


Pressure — lots of it — came at Hempfield from all angles early in Monday night’s Section 2-6A girls basketball game.

The badgering defense snarled the Spartans before they even got to the halfcourt line, and the duress-inducing strategy gave shine to No. 5 Mt. Lebanon, which piggybacked a career night from sophomore Ashleigh Connor to register a 77-45 win at the Hempfield Spartan Field House.

“My mind was in the right place at the right time and my teammates hyped me up,” said Connor, who scored 35 points on 11 of 14 shooting. She had 16 in the first quarter and 24 in the first half as Mt. Lebanon (4-1, 2-0) raced to a 47-21 lead by intermission.

“(Connor) played outstanding tonight,” said Mt. Lebanon coach Dori Oldaker, who was applying ice to her own knee after the game.

She believes she tore her meniscus in a home game Dec. 9 against Altoona.

“I coached a little too hard that night,” the veteran coach said. “I have to get an MRI. But I’m still going to coach. It’s not about me. It’s about these girls.”

Oldaker is known for producing defensively sound teams and this one has that look.

“Tonight came down to all five kids (on the floor) working together and causing a lot of havoc,” Oldaker said.

Hempfield (1-3, 0-2) scored the opening bucket, but 11 turnovers later, it was behind 24-7. Connor hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter to kickstart a hot shooting night. For every one thing Hempfield did right, Mt. Lebanon seemed to do 10.

“We didn’t handle their pressure well at all,” Hempfield coach Tom Brush said. “We should have been able to execute better. There were a lot of turnovers, but we didn’t do anything to help ourselves out. We would make the first pass (against the press), but it was that initial double-team that really bothered us.”

Senior Sarah Liberatore scored 18 to lead Hempfield. She sat late with four fouls but managed 13 points after halftime.

Liberatore had 11 of her team’s 13 points in the third quarter.

Connor drew the defensive assignment on Liberatore, a matchup of 20-a-game scorers. Oldaker thought Connor’s defense on Liberatore was superb.

“I was scared when I came in here last year as a freshman and had to guard (Liberatore),” Connor said. “She is an amazing player. We played really well as a team because we all get along so well.”

Sophomore Reagan Murdoch added 11 points and Morgan Palmer had 10 for the Blue Devils, who led 67-34 after three quaters.

Connor, who scored inside and out, and in transition, emerged from the locker room postgame holding a long piece of rope. The item is a game-by-game award that goes to the team’s top all-around performer.

“It’s a (symbol) of holding the team together,” Connor said. “If one of us was hanging off a cliff, which teammate would we want to grab their hand and pull them up?”

Brush was surprised to see Connor have such a big night, but he was impressed, nonetheless.

“In the two games I watched (on film), she took a lot of shots, but I didn’t think she would do that to us,” he said. “She was very aggressive and really attacked the hoop.

“We need to do a better job against that type of pressure because we’re going to see a lot of it in this section.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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