By Corey J. Corbin
Allied News Sports Editor
SLIPPERY ROCK — The Slippery Rock University-UPJ showdown at Morrow Field House Friday night was reminiscent of many Kiser Classic showdowns from the past five years.
Grove City and Lakeview high schools may not have been participating, but a pair of their more distinguished recent alums were on display in the Rock’s 59-52 win over the Lady Panthers (2-4).
Former GCHS standout Julie Molloy posted 11 points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks for SRU (4-3), while former Lakeview phenom Sheena Aden posted two assists and a rebound for UPJ.
“It’s different for both of us being college kids,” said Aden, who’s battling stress fractures in both feet. “In high school, Julie had to do everything for (Grove City) and I had to do everything for (Lakeview). We had to guard each other. Now, we’re on teams that are much better.”
The victory was made even sweeter for SRU, because it was a birthday present to eighth year coach Laurel Heilman.
“I’ll take this every day,” Heilman said. “You have mixed emotions playing on your birthday. You can go either way. This was the best present I could ever have.”
The Rock jumped out to an 8-0 cushion and also held a 12-3 lead later in the first half, but quickly found itself trailing 21-19.
UPJ extended its lead to 31-24 at the break thanks in large part to 7-of-11 shooting from downtown. Forward Kristen Irwin drained 5-of-6 from behind the arc and center Krista Britcher added a pair of triples.
“We talked about it at halftime, because 21 of their points were threes,” Heilman said. “Those came from their four and five players. With Irwin, we knew she was dangerous. She loves being at the top of the key and we knew that, but she scored anyway. We didn’t close out like we needed to. Britcher, those were a big surprise, but that’ll happen. That was our main emphasis at halftime.
“We went out a couple times with our hands down. You’re not going to scare her into missing. I’d rather us fly out there and try to make them make a move off the dribble than have them catch and shoot.”
That all changed in the second half as the Rock limited the Panthers to just 8-of-30 shooting from the field and 3-of-11 from three-point land.
“Our intensity was up,” Molloy said. “We came out with positive attitudes and were cheering each other on. When we get (a stop) on defense, our energy goes up and we play better.”
A 13-5 Rock run in the first five and a half minutes of the second half propelled SRU back in front by a 37-36 edge, but UP-J responded with a 12-3 run of its own to take a 48-40 lead with 9:15 left to play.
SRU came right back with an 11-0 run in the next three-plus minutes to take a 51-45 lead with 5:45 left to play and never trailed thereafter.
“I was really pleased with our defense inside,” Heilman said. “It was our best effort of the season as far as fronting down low ... and rebounding. We usually get killed on the boards. One and done as I call it. Shoot once and get the board. It was our best effort.”
During that stretch, guards Nikki Presto and Amanda Nero joined Molloy in draining clutch basket after clutch basket.
Presto led the way with a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double, while also posting a team-high four assists and three steals. Nero matched Presto’s scoring total with 15 points and had three assists, while KellyAnn Staudinger grabbed nine rebounds.
“That’s just our personalities,” Molloy said. “We knew we needed to do it. We wanted to win. It was open and we took it. We just played harder. Our confidence is up. We knew had to bounce back from this last weekend.
“I’m getting back into the flow of playing a whole game again. I’m getting comfortable with all the girls on and off the floor. It’s just been whether I was comfortable or not. Now, I feel like I am.”
Notes: UPJ coach Sasha Palmer is the wife of SRU men’s coach Jamal Palmer. ... Irwin led the Panthers with 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Britcher added 13 points and five rebounds. ... SRU shot 48.1 percent (25-of-51) from the field and outrebounded UPJ 31-21. ... The Rock had 12 turnovers to Pitt-Johnstown’s 14. ... The Green and White enjoyed a 26-8 advantage in points in the paint.
By Corey J. Corbin