By Josh Shreckengost
Armstrong sophomore Olivia Yancy knocks down a three-pointer from the corner to open the scoring in the second half of the River Hawks' 31-28 road win over Plum on Tuesday night. Yancy scored eight points, made several nice plays defensively and served as the catalyst as Armstrong (4-0) remained undefeated in 2021.
Pittsburgh, Pa -- In just four games this season, the Armstrong girls varsity basketball team has established itself as the class of WPIAL 5A Section 2. The River Hawks have proven early on that they can win in a variety of ways and did so again Tuesday night, on the road at Plum.
Led by excellent performances by senior Shae Clark, sophomore Olivia Yancy and freshman Emma Paul, Armstrong played stifling defense and held the Mustangs to just 28 points which was 23 less than Plum's season average. The River Hawks did not have a player score in double figures, but Armstrong played excellent defense on Plum's best player, Kennedie Montue, and hit enough free throws down the stretch to hold on for a 31-28 victory.
"It feels great, but I think we know we didn't play all that well," Armstrong head coach Kirk Lorigan said. "Hats off to Plum, they did a nice job of preparing for us and giving us some things to think about defensively. Any road win in this section is huge. This section is so tight. Team one through team six or seven are all so competitive. To hold court and still wins on the road, that's huge because we don't think anyone is going to go undefeated to win the section."
The first half was a defensive struggle as both teams were unable to find any semblance of an offensive rhythm. Turnover issues plagued both the River Hawks and the Mustangs as the two teams combined for just 23 points against 23 turnovers over the course of the first sixteen minutes of play.
The teams were tied, 8-8 at the end of the first quarter and while Armstrong won the second quarter, 5-2 to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room at the half. Montue led all scorers with six points in the first half while Clark and Yancy each had four for the River Hawks. While Montue led all scorers with 12 points in the game, Armstrong did a phenomenal job of shutting the Mustangs' best player down thanks to a team-wide defensive effort. The River Hawks were also able to get Montue into foul trouble midway through the second quarter when she picked up her third and had to sit for several minutes.
"Our kids really did a nice job against Plum last year at our place and we approached it the same way tonight," Lorigan said. "Kennedie is a hard match-up. Bigs can't guard her because she plays like a guard and guards can't guard her because she's big. We tried to start out in a man because we thought we could get some pressure on them with Shae, but we got Layne [Miller] into foul trouble and we went back to that 3-2 [zone] and the kids communicate in that so well because they know what Kennedie can do to us if we're not sure where she is. They did a great job of executing the defensive gameplan. Every single kid that was on the floor, even if they only played a minute and a half, did a great job of executing the gameplan, defensively."
The scoring picked up a bit in the third quarter and Yancy opened the second half with a three-pointer from the corner which extended Armstrong's lead to six points. The River Hawks were able to open up a nine-point lead on a couple of different occasions in the second half, but the Mustangs came roaring back in the fourth quarter.
As the game approached crunch time in the final two-plus minutes of regulation, Plum narrowed the gap to just two points when Dannika Susko scored in the post with 3:30 left. That brought the score to 28-26 in favor of Armstrong and it would remained locked until under a minute left when the River Hawks were able to knock down three clutch free throws and hold off a couple of attempts by the Mustangs to tie the game.
Yancy finished with eight points, second on the team behind Clark's nine and she was instrumental in getting some big buckets as the Mustangs ran a box-and-one and keyed on Emma Paul, Armstrong's sensational freshman who had opened her varsity career with three straight 20-plus point games. Plum was able to hold Paul to just seven points, but Yancy and her teammates stepped up to help capture a much-needed victory.
"No pressure, just get out there and play, but I knew I had to pick it up because [Paul] was getting pressured," Yancy said. "If we wanted to win, someone needed to step up so I just decided to. Coming in here and beating them, that's really big."
The River Hawks will be on the road again Thursday night as they travel to Kiski Area for yet another section contest. Armstrong will be looking to go 5-0 for the first time since the 2017-18 season. The River Hawks' 3-0 start in section play this season is a program best and Armstrong will be looking to extend that winning streak to four straight against the Cavaliers.
Lorigan knows that with each successive win, more attention comes his team's way. Still, the only head coach that the Armstrong girls varsity basketball team has ever known, said his team will be ready for the challenge.
"We don't like to talk about a lot of stuff, we like to be the underdog, but we know that some of the local publications are starting to mention Armstrong a little more and with that, we know we need to work harder," Lorigan said. "I'm proud of the kids because they respond to everything that we talk about. I think that these girls are turning some heads with their effort."
To watch a complete re-broadcast of Armstrong's 31-28 win over Plum, please click the link below: