WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty-Salem topped Jonathan Alder, 52-51, in a non-league girls basketball thriller on Thursday.
Alder managed to claw itself into the lead late in the game, but West Liberty-Salem rallied for the win.
It was a satisfying victory for West Liberty-Salem Coach Dennis McIntosh.
“The way we let things get away from us there in the last two minutes, for them to come back and win and the way they played — especially the younger kids,” he said. “They kept playing hard and played great defense there at the end. They didn’t panic.”
The Tigers leapt out to an 8-0 run to begin the game, eventually settling for a 12-4 lead after the first quarter as Alder struggled to put it through the hoop.
The Pioneers (2-2) didn’t stay cold, though, draining a trio of three-pointers in the second frame to trim the halftime deficit to a slight 26-23 margin.
Taylor Lauck took over in the third quarter and looked unstoppable for the Tigers, rattling off a string of scoring drives to the basket. Her first-step quickness and bouncy change of direction proved to be unmatched by the Pioneers’ defense. She finished with a game-high 18 points.
“She just used her quickness to her advantage offensively, which is a big plus for us. She really struggled the first two games for us and for her to step up and play the way she did tonight is really good for us,” McIntosh said.
Late in the fourth quarter, the visitors erased a small deficit with a five-point burst to take the lead. Alder made a free throw, forced a steal and scored and then West Liberty-Salem missed an open look that sailed long from the block, allowing another score to the visitors.
Things looked dire for the Tigers, but Gabby Hollar wouldn’t let her team go quietly.
As she moved to foul and extend the game, Hollar saw an even better opportunity and took it — jumping a pass for a steal and breaking away for a basket that tied the game and drew a foul. Even better, she converted the free throw to put West Liberty-Salem up by a point.
“We were actually hoping she’d just foul her, but she ended up getting a steal out of it,” McIntosh said. “That’s just the way Gabby plays. She’s going to play hard the whole time and make plays for you. She just works so hard out there.”
After an empty Alder possession, the Pioneers had to foul her again and she made both, pushing the lead to three.
A desperation heave with five seconds left missed the mark, and the Tigers allowed the rebound and put-back to avoid any potential fouling that would give the visitors a chance to tie.
Hollar had 13 points for West Liberty-Salem, with Kelsey Day and Grace Estes each adding 7.
In the JV game, Alder prevailed 42-27. Savannah Weaver had 10 points and Mya King added 8 for West Liberty-Salem.
West Liberty-Salem (2-1) hosts Miami East on Saturday as part of a marathon of games featuring both the girls’ and boys’ teams. Jonathan Alder will travel to play at Benjamin Logan Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Reach Justin Miller at 937-652-1331, ext. 1776 or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.