By Josh Shreckengost
Armstrong senior guard Shae Clark (21) knocks down a free throw in the second quarter of the River Hawks' WPIAL 5A Section 2 victory over Kiski Area on Thursday night. Clark scored 12 points and played ferocious defense to lead Armstrong (5-0) to a win and help the River Hawks remain undefeated in 2021.
Leechburg, Pa. -- The old sports axiom "a win is a win" is meant to illustrate the fact that despite a team's mistakes or lack of execution during a game, the desired outcome of a victory was ultimately achieved.
The Armstrong girls varsity basketball team collected such a win Thursday night on the road against WPIAL 5A Section 2 foe Kiski Area and though they remained undefeated on the season (5-0 overall, 4-0 section), the River Hawks left plenty of points on the floor and made mistakes that would have ultimately hurt them against a better opponent.
"Road wins are always big. We've said all along that the section is competitive top-to-bottom and that we don't think any team in this section is a cupcake, but I think we missed a lot of opportunities tonight and I think we made a lot of bad decisions tonight throughout the course of our game," Armstrong head coach Kirk Lorigan said. "I think we forced a lot, I think we passed up opportunities then we force it after I tell kids they have to want to shoot the ball, but overall you can't be displeased with 5-0. You can't be any better than that after five games."
The Cavaliers came in with a 3-4 overall record, but were 0-4 in section play prior to the game against Armstrong. Kiski Area stuck around in the first quarter while both teams struggled offensively. The River Hawks overwhelmingly dominated the time of possession and had more quality scoring chances, but at the end of eight minutes of play, Armstrong held just a two-point lead, 9-7.
Armstrong outscored KA, 14-4 in the second quarter which pushed the River Hawks' lead to double digits. The run was highlighted by a nice and-one by sophomore Olivia Yancy and a long three-pointer from the wing by freshman Emma Paul. Still, the lack of execution on the offensive end by Armstrong was evident as the two teams traded turnovers on occasion and the River Hawks missed a couple of high percentage shots.
One area of the River Hawks' game which worked well when it was employed was Armstrong's full-court pressure. Lorigan first called for the pressure, which alternated between a 1-2-1-1 diamond press and a "100" full-court man press and the Cavaliers struggled mightily with it. Armstrong utilized the pressure late in the second quarter and continued with it for the duration of the third which allowed the River Hawks to take control of the game on the scoreboard.
Armstrong senior captain Shae Clark, a player which Lorigan has repeatedly described as an extension of the coaching staff due to her years of experience in the program, was responsible for making the defensive calls. For Clark, her ability to call the right defense and set her teammates up in proper position was a combination of instinct and experience.
"I heard their coach on the bench during the timeout and I thought that he might set something up for our man pressure, so I called 12 (1-2-1-) and thought we might be able to force them into a turnover or get them to call another timeout," Clark said. "I try to see what's going on on the floor and if I see something, me and Coach [Lorigan] have a good enough relationship that I can mention it to him."
Lorigan noted that Clark's ability to act like another coach on the floor is an added bonus for a team which features a lot of younger players contributing in key situations and playing important minutes. The River Hawks have four seniors on the roster, but only Clark starts out of that group, and as the only two-time captain in program history, provides invaluable leadership, especially on the defensive end.
"We talked about it [in practice], that we thought they might struggle with pressure," Lorigan said. "We just wanted to be consistently changing defenses and I allowed Shae to make a lot of those calls. She really understands what we're doing and has done a great job for us, just being a leader on the floor."
Armstrong led, 33-15 at the end of the third quarter and the Cavaliers never threatened in the second half. Clark scored 12 points and was excellent defensively as her quick hands and heads-up play forced the Cavaliers into a boatload of turnovers. Paul scored a game-high 14 points, two nights after she was held to just seven in the River Hawks' road win over Plum.
Though the River Hawks are still unblemished in the win column, they will face their biggest test of the young season on Monday when they travel to Hampton for a crucial road section contest. The Talbots are 8-1 overall and sit just behind Armstrong in the section standings with a 4-1 mark. Lorigan knows that for his team to capture its third straight section road win and stay undefeated, a few areas of concern must be addressed in practiced and ultimately, those areas must be cleaned up.
"We've got to box out better, we talk about it every day at practice and there are some things that maybe we need to do at practice to hold kids more accountable," Lorigan said. "And offensively, we have other people who can score and we need to figure out a way to get those kids the confidence to believe that they can."
To watch a complete re-broadcast of Armstrong's 41-25 win over Kiski Area, please click the link below: