Athens downs Sayre, takes NTL East lead
SAYRE - The last time Athens met Sayre the Redskins defense limited the Wildcats to just 19 points as Sayre handed Athens its first league loss.
On Thursday the Wildcats turned the tables on their Valley rivals, limiting Sayre to just five first-half points in a 35-26 victory.
The win moves Athens alone atop the NTL East standings at 9-1, while Sayre is 8-2.
It wasn't a high-scoring first half for either team, but six points by Danielle Stopper helped the Wildcats lead 12-5 at the break.
"I think early on we didn't let their defensive intensity get to us," Athens coach Kelly Burkhart said. "You can't play a better defensive half then when the other team only scores five points."
The Wildcats players knew that defense was the key to the game.
"Our defense in the first half was really good," Christin Dunkling said.
"We executed the game plan well," Stopper added.
"Good defense leads to good offense for us," Monica Dougherty said.
After falling behind quickly in the first quarter the last time the two teams met Athens players knew how important it was to get the lead on Thursday.
"It definitely helps that we got the lead and got some confidence," Dunkling said.
In the third quarter the Sayre offense started to come alive in the Redskins first pink game thanks to a pair of Mollie Robinson threes and a three from Elyse Skerpon.
Skerpon's three helped cut the deficit to 16-15 and after Dougherty put Athens back up four, Robinson's second three of the quarter cut the deficit to 19-18.
Even though Sayre was getting back into the game the Athens players liked the increased pace of the game that plays into their style of play more.
"We are more comfortable when we play fast," Stopper said.
"Plus, we had some momentum coming out of the half," Dougherty added.
Dougherty hit a jumper as Athens closed out the third up 21-18.
In the fourth Robinson hit two free throws and after Mackenzie Warner came off the bench to hit a jumper, Kelly Villanti hit a three with 6:37 left as Sayre tied the game.
As quickly as the game was tied, the Wildcats got the lead back just as fast as Rachael Donnelly answered with a three.
"Those were two huge shots," Burkhart said of the baskets by Warner and Donnelly. "It's part of a complete team having people step up each game."
Up by three the Wildcats went inside and Dunkling delivered, scoring to put Athens up 28-23, converting on a three-point play and then scoring again. Her seven straight points helped the Wildcats go up 33-23 and close out the victory.
"I think when we picked up the pace there were more pick and rolls," Stopper said of the ability for the Wildcats to go inside.
"When we changed our offense there were more openings in the middle," Dunkling added.
Burkhart thought that a few changes in the Wildcats offense helped free things up for Dunkling.
"We tried to make a couple tweaks on offense and we had success at it," she said.
It was Athens seniors who led them on Thursday as Stopper led all scorers in the first half, Dougherty had seven of the team's nine third-quarter points and Dunkling scored seven straight in the fourth.
"They really stepped up tonight," Burkhart said. "They are great leaders."
For Athens players getting the win over Sayre after falling to them last time was big.
"It feels great," Stopper said. "Losing to them earlier and also losing to them last year on their home court, it was nice to win."
And, taking the lead in the NTL East race is something special for Athens.
"It's amazing, words can't describe it," Stopper said.
"Especially being seniors, it's great," Dunkling said.
While the Athens players now have the league lead, they know they still have to close out the regular season if they want to win a league title.
"It's a great win, but we still have a few more games to go," Dougherty said.
Dougherty led Athens with 11 and Dunkling had nine, while Stopper had eight. Donnelly had three and Warner and Jensen Dunkling each added two points.
Donnelly had three boards, Dougherty had four rebounds, five assists and four steals and Stopper had nine boards, three assists and two steals.
Sayre got 12 from Robinson and Adrienne Malorzo and Skerpon had four each, while Villanti and Kelsey Young each had three.
Young had four steals and Robinson had three, while Young and Malorzo each had five rebounds.
Sayre won the JV game 36-31 with Allie Peet leading Sayre with 15 and Morgan Westbrook getting 15 for the Wildcats.
The pink game was the senior project of Sayre's Elyse Skerpon and Kelly Villanti. They sold t-shirts for the game and had a raffle and raised $4,680 for Guthrie Health (RPH Breast Care Fund).