By Kyle Wills
After a needed victory going into conference play, the Youngstown State University women’s basketball team continued its winning ways.
The team started its Horizon League schedule with victories over Northern Kentucky University and Wright State University.
The Penguins took the lead with 10 seconds left after a layup from fifth-year senior Lilly Ritz and held on to defeat the Norse on Dec. 2, 59-55. Junior Malia Magestro led the way with her second-straight 20-point performance with 21, shooting 8-of-16 overall.
Youngstown State trailed 13-4 after the first eight minutes, but slid its way back to make it a 15-13 game after the first quarter. However, it fell further behind by halftime, 28-21, after shooting 4-of-13 from the field and committing four turnovers in the second period.
Magestro helped fuel the charge in the second half with eight points in the Penguins’ explosive 23-point third quarter. Senior Emily Saunders recorded two blocks, in a single possession, at the five-minute mark in the third and finished the next Youngstown State possession, laying one off the glass to cut the deficit to 34-33.
After entering the fourth period tied at 44, the Penguins managed to claim their first lead since the opening basket after two free throws from Saunders with less than four minutes left.
With the game tied at 55 and 10 seconds left on the clock, sixth-year senior Megan Callahan inbounded a pass to Ritz who laid it off the right side of the backboard to take a two-point lead. Magestro sealed the game with a reverse layup at the buzzer to seal the team’s 1-0 start to conference play.
The women took that momentum into Dayton, Ohio with a 27-point opening quarter against Wright State on Dec. 4, defeating the Raiders, 76-62.
Following a Wright State layup to make the score 7-4, Youngstown State responded with a 20-point run to end the period. In the first quarter, Ritz and senior Dena Jarrells each had eight points, with Jarrells hitting back-to-back 3-pointers that extended their lead to 20-4.
The Raiders slowed down the Penguin offense in the middle periods, cutting the deficit 49-35 by the fourth quarter.
The final period was an offensive showcase as each team scored 27 points a piece.
Ritz finished the game with a double-double of 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Magestro had 20 points for the third straight game, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
The women then played West Virginia University Institute of Technology on Dec. 6, surpassing the century mark in points to defeat the Golden Bears, 102-39.
Ritz started the game scoring the first 10 points of the game, leading to 16 first quarter points. Head coach John Barnes said the Penguins’ best played basketball came when they pushed the ball under the rim and Ritz took advantage of her early opportunities.
“Lilly obviously did a great job [in the paint], 20 points in six and a half minutes. That’s a pretty good ratio, so she did a great job getting us a lead and we were able to go from there,” Barnes said.
Youngstown entered halftime with a 63-24 lead after a 34-point second period.
The Penguins came out of the half with another 30-point quarter in the third and eclipsed 100 points after a score from senior Jen Wendler.
Ritz ended the contest with 20 points in only six minutes, draining all eight of her shots and all four shots from the charity stripe. Three other Penguins were able to score in double figures as senior Shay-Lee Kirby scored 13 points and Wendler and Saunders each had 10.
Sophomore Jenna Reppart was also able to get into the game for her first minutes of the season, scoring her first point of the campaign following a pair of free throws in the fourth.
After a rough start to its season, Callahan said the team is starting to play as a unit.
“I feel like we have finally come together as one. There were a lot of different pieces that we had to put together and we’re starting to find that spark within each other. Sharing the basketball, getting rebounds and playing our defense has really given us a spark in the last four games,” Callahan said.
Barnes said because the starters followed the game plan, it allowed other players to make valuable contributions.
“After the first quarter on, we’re rotating a lot of bodies in and out, trying to get our bench players, role players, that haven’t played a ton of minutes, get them a lot of minutes and experience out there. It was just fun to see those guys out there having fun and making plays,” Barnes said.
The women’s basketball team will continue its six-game homestand Dec. 10 when it takes on Canisius College at 1 p.m. The game can be listened to on 570 WKBN or watched on ESPN+.