Rippon’s defense lifts Lewisburg

LEWISBURG — While Lauren O’Malley established herself as one of District 4’s best basketball players last winter, Bethany Rippon watched her own season go by from the sidelines.

Rippon missed all but three games last season after tearing her PCL in December. What the Lewisburg senior missed most was competing against talented players like O’Malley. Given the opportunity Wednesday, Rippon embraced it. O’Malley nearly recorded another double-double but Rippon provided lock-down fourth-quarter defense and never let the senior score a basket against her. She did the same thing in the first quarter and that superb defensive performance was the main reason Lewisburg defeated the defending District 4 Class AAAA champions, 31-24.

Lewisburg (2-1, 1-0 HAC-II) handed Montoursville (3-3, 0-1) its first league loss in two seasons and outscored it 11-4 over the last eight minutes, 2 seconds in large part to Rippon blanketing O’Malley.

“She can do it all,” Rippon said. “I love it (defense). She’s a great player and it’s awesome guarding her. As long as I can help the team out in some way, even if it’s not offensively, I want to do it.”

Rippon experienced one of her worst shooting nights and did not score a point. But she also provided a valuable lesson to all those who think scoring is all that matters. Rippon impacted the game in so many other ways. Lewisburg would not have won without her contributions against a determined Montoursville team that tied it 20-20 late in the third quarter after erasing a nine-point deficit.

O’Malley scored nine of her game-high 11 points in the middle quarters when Rippon did not guard her. Rippon opened the game guarding O’Malley and held her scoreless and to just one shot as Lewisburg took an 8-4 lead. Lewisburg Phil Stamm put Rippon back on the Sun-Gazette Preseason Player of the Year to start the fourth quarter and she became O’Malley’s shadow, following her everywhere. The help defense was excellent as well as Rippon and her teammates cut off the head of Montoursville’s offense, holding it two points in the first 7:43.

“That defense is probably her biggest strength,” Stamm said. “You can play her inside or outside on offense and you can do the same thing on defense. You can put her on a point guard, you can put on a post player because she’s really versatile. She played really well.”

“I just wanted to have the helper help us out and not let her do anything with her moves,” Rippon said after grabbing seven rebounds. “She’s a really good post and we all know that so we wanted to make sure she didn’t drive on us. Our coaches say defense turns into offense and that’s what really wins us games.”

So did the entire Lewisburg defense. That is nothing new either. The Dragons have not allowed more than 35 points in any game and are allowing just 30 points per game. On a night when Lewisburg was cold from outside and on which Montoursville also played stifling defense, the Dragons biggest strength paved the way to a hard-fought win.

Lewisburg made just five first-half shots but led 12-7 at halftime, keeping Montoursville without a field goal for the half’s final 10 minutes. The Dragons extended their lead to 20-11 midway through the third quarter, but Montoursville put together its best stretch and four different players scored during a 9-0 run that tied the game. Erin Hilkert (6 points, 6 rebounds) hit a buzzer-beating putback that gave Lewisburg the lead back and the Dragons never trailed again.

Hilkert and Niki Cho both made key fourth-quarter plays on both ends and Emily Sholly (9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks) hit two jumpers that gave Lewisburg a 31-22 with 2:45 remaining. The Dragons also allowed just one fourth-quarter field goal until O’Malley scored off a last-second steal and layup.

“We’ve defended well. When we get the offense going we’ll be a more complete game,” Stamm said. “It’s early. It’s just third game and with the injuries we had it last year, it takes these girls a little more time to mesh into playing back together. We’ll work our way into it, but the defense is carrying us right now.”

O’Malley is having a big senior season and finished a rebound shy of recording another double-double while adding three steals. But the four other Warriors managed only 13 points. It is a building process for Montoursville (3-3) which has just two significant varsity contributors back from last season.

“To hold them to 31 you’d think you would win, but we just have to keep working,” Montoursville coach Jon Weaver said. “We’re still working and we’re getting there. They played hard and our defense was strong, but somebody has to step up other than Lauren.”

Shelby Kurtz grabbed nine rebounds and made two steals for Montoursville. He putback made it a two-point game late in the third quarter and a Lydia Albert steal and layup tied the game, 20-20. Lewisburg scored the fourth-quarter’s first four points but Allyse Macrhiconi hit a jumper that made it 26-22 with six minutes remaining. Lewisburg’s defense then went into overdrive and held Montoursville scoreless for nearly those last six minutes.

“It’s a learning curve and these are ones we learn from,” Weaver said. “We have to get 11 wins and we’ll be ready by the end of the season. I think we’ll be fine come playoff time if we keep growing.”

MONTOURSVILLE (24)

Lauren O’Malley 3 5-7 11, Allyse Marchioni 2 0-0 4, Lydia Albert 2 0-0 4, Rebecca Reeder 1 0-0 2, Shelby Kurtz 1 1-2 3. Totals 9 6-9 24.

LEWISBURG (31)

Grace Kelleher 2 2-4 7, Emily Sholly 4 1-2 9, Bethany Rippon 0 0-0 0, Megan O’Hara 2 2-2 6, Jamie Fedorjaka 0 0-0 0, Niki Cho 1 1-2 3, Erin Hilkert 3 0-0 6, Cassie West 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 6-10 31.

Montoursville 4 3 13 4–24

Lewisburg 8 4 10 9–31

3-point goals: Lewisburg 1 (Kelleher 1), Montoursville 0.

JV score: Lewisburg, 32-22.

Records: Lewisburg (2-1, 1-0 HAC-II), Montoursville (3-3, 0-1).

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