Laurel girls’ freshmen guide way to big home victory, tie for section lead

Monday, January 27, 2020 | 10:30 PM

On a late January night in Lawrence County, the Laurel freshmen grew up.

In a game the Spartans (12-6, 10-1 in Section 1-2A) had to win to have any legitimate hope of a girls basketball section championship, freshmen Regan Atkins, Danielle Pontius and Joselynn Fortuna scored 26 of the team’s 34 points in a 34-30 victory against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

It was the first section loss of the for the Chargers (14-3, 10-1), and it avenged a sour Laurel loss from 25 days prior.

Laurel held a 10-point halftime against the Chargers on Jan. 2 on the road but played poorly in the final 16 minutes, getting outscored 25-9 in the second half and 13-0 in the fourth quarter. The Spartans learned from the defeat.

“We’re so young,” Laurel coach Matt Stebbins said. “I feel like we learned from that loss (to OLSH) earlier in the year. This team has grown a lot since that loss.

“We touched on (the previous blown lead) at halftime, but we didn’t dwell on it. We just said that we wanted to play a complete game. We played three strong quarters down there. We wanted to play four strong quarters tonight.”

With his team behind 3-0 and not scoring in the first three minutes, Stebbins inserted Pontius into the game, and it gave the Spartans the spark they needed.

Pontius quickly buried a 3-pointer to tie the score and had five of her team’s 9 points in the first quarter.

“Danielle has been a starter for most of the season for us”, said Stebbins. “She’s coming off an ankle injury and played for the first time last Thursday. We’ve been getting her back in slowly, giving her some time to come off the bench, to alleviate some of the pressure on her.”

OLSH came out in a full-court press to start the third quarter, which allowed the Chargers to cut the deficit. The OLSH press forced 10 third-quarter turnovers and allowed the Chargers to outscore Laurel, 11-7, and trim the lead to two points going into the fourth quarter.

That’s when the young Spartans matured. Laurel held off the charge and drew even with OLSH in section play.

Laurel and OLSH finished 13-1 in section games last season, but the Chargers flourished in the postseason, winning the WPIAL championship 50-48 against Brentwood.

Laurel and OLSH have three section games remaining each. Laurel will travel to face South Side on Thursday, and the Chargers return home to take on Sto-Rox.

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