BY JOHN THEALL Sports writer
AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE — Oriskany senior Danielle Kaleta, left, tries to get around Rome Catholic sophomore defender Mya Domenico in the third quarter of a Center State Conference Division III game in Rome on Tuesday. Domenico tallied two of Rome’s 12 steals in its 52-45 victory. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)
LAUNCHING A THREE — Oriskany senior captain Mallory Ingalls burries a three-point basket over Rome Catholic senior guard Rachel Knight during Tuesday’s Center State Conference Division III matchup in Rome. Ingalls had a team-high 19 points and four treys, while Knight recorded a game-high 22 points. The Lady Redwings won, 52-45. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)
I’LL TAKE THAT — Rome Catholic junior center Torie Hairston, left, swats Oriskany junior Stephanie Weigel’s shot on Tuesday night during a Center State Conference Division III matchup held in Rome. The Lady Redwings improved to 6-3 in the league and 11-6 overall with a 52-45 victory. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)
It had been nearly a month since the Rome Catholic and Oriskany girls basketball Center State Conference Division III rivalry spilled over onto the hardwood.
The last time the two squads squared off, the Lady Redskins ended an eight-year losing skid against their crosstown rivals.
Seeing the streak come to an end hadn’t been sitting well with some Romans.
In particular, senior guard Rachel Knight.
Playing in potentially her last home game as a Lady Redwing, Knight got a second chance on Tuesday evening to make a statement, and the scrappy, four-year veteran responded by going for a game-high 20 points to help guide the Lady Redwings to a 52-45 home victory in the rematch.
"I just wanted to go out there and win so bad," Knight said. "Coach said before the game that we might not get a home game here for sectionals, so this could have been my last night on this court, and I wanted to make it special," she added.
And that she did.
Knight, who had only two points in the 41-37 loss at Oriskany earlier this season, slashed her way through the Lady Redskins’ defense this time around for 18 second-half points.
She also went 8-for-11 from the charity stripe to pace the host team’s offense, which outscored Oriskany 34-26 in the second half after trailing by one at intermission.
The Lady Redskins, who fell to 7-3 in league play and 14-5 overall, led for the majority of the first half as they mounted a 12-4 first-quarter lead as the Romans had the ball stripped away from them seven times and failed to guard the Lady Redskins on the high post in the man-to-man defense.
Rome Catholic coach Nick D’Argenio quickly switched to his bread-and-butter 2-3 zone defense, and the Lady Redwings began to chip away at the deficit.
Knight then gave RCS the 37-36 lead with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter followed by a steal and strong drive to the basket as the Rome faithful rose to their feet for a standing ovation.
"I don’t know what it is about big games, but I just want to go out there and show everyone how good I can be," said Knight, who also finished with two steals and two assists.
"She (Knight) played outstanding tonight. She didn’t play that well at Oriskany the first time the two met up, but the passion came out tonight and she just played amazing," said D’Argenio, whose team improved to 11-6 overall and 6-3 in league play this season after the win.
D’Argenio’s bunch is riding a season-high four-game winning streak, and he said that the loss against CSC league rival New York Mills at the end of last month really woke the team up and has led to its recent hot streak.
"We just started from scratch, and I said that from here on out we are on a seven-game season. We’re playing better, we’re looking good and we are 4-0 so far," he said.
Lady Redskins senior guard Mallory Ingalls had a team-high 19 points as the long range sharp shooter sank a game-high four three-pointers while going 3-for-4 from the free throw line.
Christina Graziadei and Danielle Kaleta each had eight points, while teammate Elyssa Lekki added six points, but top Oriskany scorer Megan Serley was limited to two points.
"It’s a tough place to play, but we came out very strong in the first half but got a little tired in the second half but still continued to play hard," said Oriskany coach Angela Meiss. "We just have to continue to keep playing hard for 32 minutes and try not to let our guard get down," she added.
Ingalls kept pace with the Romans’ second half offensive surge as the four-year varsity player drained in three of her four three-point attempts, but couldn’t handle the Lady Redskins’ aggressive defense in the second half.
As a team, Rome collected 26 total defensive rebounds, including eight rebounds coming from sophomore forward Mya Domenico, who also tallied two steals, three assists and four points.
The hosts also had 11 offensive rebounds and swiped 12 steals from their rivals.
"I think defensively we really played much better the second time that we faced Oriskany," Knight said. "We do better when we aren’t in the man defense as compared to the zone defense that we like to run and that was the difference in this game," she said.
Samantha Strzepek, who hadn’t played in the two teams first meeting this season, drained in 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds with two steals and two assists for Rome as point guard Kim Quinn also poured in 10 points with three helpers and four steals.
The Lady Redskins will try to get back on track when they face CSC host Poland on Thursday following a 6 o’clock JV tip-off time in a league crossover matchup.
RCS will also compete in a CSC Division III matchup on Thursday and will look to keep their momentum going as they take on host Hamilton for a 6 o’clock JV start time.
The Lady Redwings fell to the division leading Lady Emerald Knights earlier this season, but D’Argenio said that the outcome might be different this time around.
"We’re playing with some passion right now. We are balanced and I think this is the best we have been playing all season," D’Argenio said. "Historically, I have had teams that plateau near the end of the season and peak early, but this year I have a team that is peaking right before sectionals, and it should be interesting to see how we will do."