STEUBENVILLE - Steubenville Catholic Central senior Rachel Rigaud belted out a beautiful rendition of the national anthem before the Crusaders' game against Madonna Thursday inside Mickey Barber Gymnasium.
After that things got ugly as both teams ratcheted up the defensive intensity before the Blue Dons found a way to grind out a 24-16 victory.
"Tonight's game probably took basketball back 30 years, but it's a typical Madonna-Central girls basketball game," said Madonna head coach Don Ogden. "Both teams were going to bring it. It's a great rivalry with great kids on both sides and great coaching staffs on both sides.
SURROUNDED — Steubenville Catholic Central’s Tori Knight looks to pass as Madonna’s Amy Davis and Nicolette Sellitti defend during the Crusaders 24-16 loss to the Blue Dons Thursday in Steubenville.
-- Fred Younce
"We were able to come out with a win, and we needed it. All credit to Catholic Central for a hard-fought battle."
Added Central head coach Tom Winland, "Defensively I never have to worry. I'm very proud of the way they play. They play very hard defensively. I just need them to find that same intensity offensively.
"When they work on their shot they have to add that intensity into it. They're learning still, but it's frustrating. This is the worst we shot since the first half of the season."
No quarter displayed the tight defense seen throughout the evening's action like the final frame.
Madonna led the game 19-16 after three quarters. When the final eight minutes elapsed the Crusaders hadn't scored, and neither team hit a shot from the field. With about three minutes elapsed in the fourth, Monica Bragg hit one of two foul shots to put the Blue Dons up 20-16. That was the last point scored until Bragg hit four more free throws with under a minute remaining to close out the 24-16 win.
"It was huge," said Ogden of his team's defensive effort. "As you saw we struggled offensively. A lot of that is credited to Catholic Central. On the reverse side I thought we did a nice job defending some of their sets, that kept us in the game, and we were fortunate to make a couple shots to pull out a victory."
The Blue Dons led 5-3 after the opening stanza, but Central scored the second quarter's first seven points to take a 10-5 lead before Bragg scored all six of the Blue Dons' points. Her basket with just over a minute remaining gave Madonna a lead it did not relinquish.
The third quarter saw Madonna open on a 6-0 run and Central close on a 6-2 spurt to set up the most defensive quarter of the night.
Bragg led all scorers with 13 points. Nicolette Sellitti chipped in six for the Blue Dons. Madonna shot 7-for-16 from the foul line.
The Crusaders were topped by Rigaud and Miranda Parkinson with four each. Central was 1-of-4 from the charity stripe.
"We need to get it out of our heads quickly because if they let it dwell it could be a long rest of the year," said Winland. "Like I said, we haven't shot this bad since the first half of the year so the mentality has to be we're coming back tomorrow ready to work.
"The work has to continue and hopefully we'll start knocking down some shots."
Madonna is in action again Monday when it hosts Linsly while the Crusaders travel to Beallsville Saturday.
Madonna 24, Central 16
Madonna 5 6 8 5 - 24
Central 3 7 6 0 - 16
MADONNA: Dowiak 1 0-0 2, Mascio 0 0-0 0, Rosso 0 0-0 0, Sellitti 3 0-2 6, Platek 0 0-0 0, Davis 1 1-4 3, Bragg 3 6-10 13, Grubbs 0 0-0 0, Lammers 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 8 7-16 24. 3-pointers: Bragg.
CENTRAL: Knight 1 0-0 3, Irvin 0 1-2 1, Rigaud 2 0-2 4, Dziewatkoski 0 0-0 0, Parkinson 2 0-0 4, Mirabella 1 0-0 2, Torrance 0 0-0 0, Ondos 0 0-0 0, Hunt 1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 7 1-4 16. 3-pointers: Knight.