By Rick Henneman
The eighth-seeded Youngstown State University women’s basketball team (9-21) entered its first round match-up against ninth-seeded Valparaiso University (10-20) coming off of a three-game losing streak.
The two teams split the regular season series but the Crusaders managed to eliminate YSU from the Horizon League Tournament with a 79-62 win on Friday night.
Valparaiso started the game on an 8-0 lead that ended with a three from YSU guard Kelley Wright with 7:51 left in the first quarter.
The shots weren’t dropping for the Penguins in the first as Valparaiso opened up a 17-7 lead forcing a YSU timeout with 3:35 left in the first period of play.
YSU guard Alison Smolinski came out of the timeout looking to get the three ball going. Smolinski made threes on three straight possessions to tie the game at 19 with 48 seconds left in the first.
The Penguins trailed the Crusaders 21-19 at the end of the first quarter.
Smolinski led all scorers with 12 points and 4 rebounds.
Both teams tightened down on defense coming into the second quarter but back-to-back fast-break layups gave YSU its first lead of the game. The Penguins led 26-24 with 6:29 left in the half.
The rest of the second quarter was back and forth but Valpo finished strong to open a 34-28 lead going into halftime.
Neither team shot better than 29 percent from the field in the second quarter.
Smolinski still led all scorers with 15 points and was 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Valpo forward Dani Franklin led the Crusaders with 11 points and 8 rebounds. Valparaiso outrebounded YSU 28-12 in the first half.
The Penguins scored the first points of the second half but Valparaiso answered with an 8-0 run. Valpo held a 12-point lead with 6:37 left in the third quarter. The Crusaders continued to dominate on the offensive and defensive boards.
Valparaiso pulled further away after Meredith Hamlet converted an and-one opportunity that increased the lead to 47-32. A three from Valpo guard Grace Hales capped off yet another 8-0 run that stretched the Crusaders’ lead to 52-32 with 4:33 left in the third period of play.
YSU trailed 47-65 at the end of the third.
The Penguins improved their shooting at the beginning of the fourth quarter but Valpo continued to answer with points of their own. The Crusaders led 73-54 with 6:37 left in the game.
The Penguins trailed 75-60 with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter. Valpo held a 42-20 rebound lead.
Valparaiso went on to win the game 79-62.
Franklin led all scorers with 18 points and 11 rebounds while Lindfors recorded 12 points and 15 rebounds. Valparaiso outrebounded the Penguins 52-26 in the game.
Smolinski led YSU with 18 points and 6 rebounds. Freshman of the Year Mary Dunn was held to eight points for the game and just two rebounds.
“I thought it all came down to rebounding,” YSU head coach John Barnes said about the loss. “They really killed us on the boards. I thought we fought hard but Lindfors and Dani Franklin both played outstanding. That was the difference in the game.”
Smolinski had success against Valpo early in the game but the Crusaders found a way to limit her production as play continued.
“I think Indiya just did a good job getting me the ball,” Smolinski said about her play. “Towards the end they guarded me more and I was not getting the open looks.”
Even though YSU won’t advance further into the tournament, Barnes is optimistic about the team’s future.
“It’s disappointing to end any season with a loss in the first round,” Barnes said. “I don’t even want to say that we didn’t play well. I thought Valpo played really well. Looking forward— A lot of players got a lot of minutes that normally, they wouldn’t get.”
Barnes also said that next year’s team will be filled with young talent.