By Gary R. Rasberry
ROCKFORD -- After seven games of decisive losses, the Parkway girls entered Monday's game looking for something positive to take home with them before the holiday break.
What came about was a solid performance.
Parkway came back from seven points down in the fourth quarter to take the lead with a free throw from Ashley Gamble with five seconds left and went on to beat Ansonia, 43-41, at Panther Gymnasium for the Panthers' first win of the season. Ansonia drops to 1-7 with the loss.
The start looked like the seven previous losses as Parkway trailed 12-4 after the first quarter. Parkway came back to get within three points at the break and overcame losing their leading scorer to fouls in the final two minutes to get the win.
"This was huge for our confidence right now," said Parkway coach Jeremy Winegardner. "We're a young team with just one senior. This was huge." One thing Parkway did to close ranks was knowing where Kendra Billenstein was at, at all times. Billenstein had eight of the 12 points for Ansonia in the first quarter. After the first eight minutes, she only had 11 to finish with a game-high 19 points.
"The big key was stopping 30 (Billenstein)," said Winegardner. "I think our zone defense was key there."
With Billenstein in check, the Panthers were able to also get the offense going, cutting the deficit to 19-16 at halftime.
Parkway got as close as two points in the third quarter but lost Addie Hays and Erika Snyder midway through the period after each picked up a fourth personal foul. That allowed Ansonia to push the lead back up and take a 31-24 advantage into the fourth quarter.
"We had to have (two) freshmen come in and help us tonight," said Winegardner, referring to Sara King and Melinda Miller. "They didn't hurt us, that was the key coming in. I needed them to be role players."
Both Hays and Snyder came back in to start the final quarter and the Panthers went back to what worked for them, lobbing the ball into the 6-0 Hays and letting her shoot or pass when the Tigers collapsed. Slowly but surely the Panthers got back to within striking distance as Hays had seven points in the quarter. It was an Ashley Gamble free throw with 2:31 left that tied the game for the first time of the night.
The joy was shortlived, however, as Hays was called for her fifth personal foul while trying to block a shot with 2:16 to go. Andrea Erisman hit the front end of the foul shots to make it 39-38 but missed the second. The Panthers moved the ball around looking for Tiffany Steinbrunner but Steinbrunner was guarded close. Snyder drove to the top of the lane and hit a 15-footer with 1:55 left to give Parkway its first lead of the game. Then, 40 seconds later, Snyder added a free throw to make it a two-point game. After an Ansonia turnover, Parkway tried to run time off the clock, but lost possession as Billenstein came down to score with 16 seconds left to tie the game.
Parkway again tried to get the ball to Steinbrunner, but Gamble was fouled in the process, giving her the chance to break the tie with 5.1 seconds left. Gamble missed the front end but hit the second to put Parkway up one.
Ansonia called timeout and looked to lob the ball down to the other side of the court, but Steinbrunner picked the pass off and tried to run the clock out, but was fouled and Steinbrunner made the first and missed the second as Ansonia was unable to make a play.
The Panthers were able to make the clutch free throws at the end, a reverse from the remainder of the game. Parkway made just 11-of-26 attempts in the game (42.3 percent).
"Our foul shots were important," said Winegardner. "I know we missed more than we made. This game could have been put away a lot earlier if we were making our foul shots."
Parkway committed 22 turnovers, but the defense came up big as Ansonia committed 29 turnovers.
"Defense was great," said Winegardner. "I don't think teams understand our zone defense. We started out in different looks to keep the team guessing."
Hays finished with 16 points and seven rebounds while Snyder had 11 points. Steinbrunner finished with nine points and a game-high16 rebounds.
Parkway returns to action Dec. 28 hosting Lincolnview.