Article by Tom Ash, The Sentinel
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MIDDLETOWN – For one quarter, the young Mechanicsburg girls basketball team looked poised and in control. Running the Wildcats’ trademark slow-paced, half-court offense with few mistakes, Mechanicsburg made up for poor shooting with just three turnovers.
But by the second quarter, the Wildcats’ inexperience was starting to show.
Mechanicsburg turned the ball over 20 times through the final three quarters and couldn’t keep up with the speedy Blue Raiders after halftime, falling 47-33 on the road Saturday afternoon. It was the Wildcats’ third-straight defeat after winning the Spring Grove Tournament last weekend.
“That’s how all of our games have been,” Mechanicsburg head coach Clay McAllister said. “We have stretches when we can’t score, we turn the ball over too much.
“When you’re young and inexperienced, not to make excuses, but it snowballs on you.”
Despite the Wildcats’ lapses in the second quarter, Middletown just couldn’t pull away. The Blue Raiders hit just two of eight shots in the quarter and matched the Wildcats with six turnovers, failing to take advantage in transition.
That changed quickly after halftime. Middletown earned three 2-pointers in the first 1:23 of the third quarter – two in transition – and went on an 8-0 run to go ahead 22-14 midway through the third. On a few occasions in the second half, the speedy Raiders picked off the Wildcats’ in-bound passes immediately after scoring to set up an easy layup in open space.
“We played a lackluster first half,” Middletown head coach Chris Hunter said. “We had a game last night, got home late, and that showed today.
“In the third quarter, we put more pressure on (the Wildcats) … we had six steals in eight opportunities. We locked them down from there on out.”
The Blue Raiders stepped up their pressure in the second half, shifting to a full-court, man-to-man press that often rattled the Wildcats into turnovers and ill-advised shots. Mechanicsburg finished zero for 14 in 3-point shooting and nine for 43 from the field.
“Last weekend, we hit some threes and won both of our games,” McAllister said. “If you make some of those shots, the turnovers don’t sting as much.”
Meanwhile, the Raiders were hitting their stride in the third, sinking seven of 11 shots in the quarter – seven of nine inside the paint.
In the fourth. Mechanicsburg managed to battle back, taking a 28-27 lead with 6:47 left in the game on a pair of Saige Hilsinger free throws, but the Wildcats’ 2 for 13 shooting performance in the final quarter eventually caught up with them.
Middletown ran off seven-straight points before Mechanicsburg’s Meghan Ross stopped the slide with a layup 3:07 before the final buzzer, but the 37-31 lead the Blue Raiders had amassed was enough to help them cruise through the last three minutes. They hit seven of eight free throws down the stretch to pull away. Middletown’s Tianna Blanding hit all six of her foul shots in the fourth.
“We came out flat. Offensively, we were out of synch,” Hunter said. “At halftime, we put a couple things (into the game plan), changed some sets and had a better second half.
“(McAllister) does a good job getting his team organized … we watched some tape on them and wanted to get out and press them.”
For the Wildcats, the early-season struggles aren’t completely unexpected. Mechanicsburg didn’t return a single starter this season, and this year’s starting cast includes just one senior, three juniors with limited playing experience, and one freshman.
Still, with a program that played its way into its first-ever PIAA playoff appearance last year, McAllister is keeping the expectations high.
“They’re good kids, they’re working hard and doing all they can do right now,” McAllister said.
“We have to win with the kids we have on the floor.”
NOTES: Middletown connected on 18 of its 32 attempts from the field … Mechanicsburg finished 15 of 20 from the foul line, while the Blue Raiders hit 11 of 19 free throws … Middletown slightly out-rebounded the Wildcats, 28-26 … both teams finished with 23 turnovers … freshman starter Hannah Brown led the Wildcats in scoring with 10 points, while teammate Tali Homick grabbed a game-high eight rebounds … Middletown’s Olivia Folmer led the game in scoring with 16 points on six-for-seven shooting.