By Josh Shreckengost
Armstrong freshman guard Emma Paul scores off the opening tip during the River Hawks' 56-54 section win over Indiana on Monday night. Paul led all scorers with a game-high 25 points and she became the first player in program history to score 20-plus points in three straight games.
Kittanning, Pa. — Armstrong's Emma Paul achieved a milestone in the River Hawks' 56-54 WPIAL Class 5A Section 2 win over Indiana on Monday night when she became the first player in program history to score 20-plus points in three straight games. Even more impressive was the fact that Paul, a freshman, accomplished the feat in her first three varsity games.
Paul scored a game-high 25 points as the River Hawks fought from behind for most of the contest and it was her clutch free throws down the stretch that ultimately made the difference.
The Little Indians tried to pressure Paul into mistakes by using the physicality of point guard Isabella Antonnaci, but Armstrong's leading scorer took the bumps and continued to make key plays to help her team to a big section victory.
"I just had to stay calm and keep my head about me because they were all over me out there," Paul said. "I just had to take it and continue to look for openings."
Paul and her teammates began to find those openings in the third and fourth quarter, but points were hard to come by in the first half as the River Hawks struggled to put the ball in the hoop, both from the field and at the free throw line.
Armstrong came into the game averaging 61.0 points per game, but managed just 21 in the first 16 minutes against Indiana.
"Hats off to [Indiana head coach] Otto [Peterson] and Indiana because they came out with a gameplan that was just top-notch," Armstrong head coach Kirk Lorigan said. "They worked hard on shutting Emma down, worked hard on shutting Shae [Clark] down and they were very well-prepared. They did a great job of getting us out of our rhythm, but the nice thing is, you look up at that scoreboard and we can put up 56 now. That's certainly nice, but the leadership that we have on the floor now is top-notch."
Indiana held a 12-10 lead at the end of the first quarter and led by three at the break, 24-21. Paul had nine points in the first half and senior captain Shae Clark had four, but both players picked up the scoring pace and Clark again made several stellar plays on the defensive end to put the Little Indians into foul trouble while Armstrong kept the score tight.
For the second time in as many games, the River Hawks were able to foul out their opponents' two best players in the second half and Clark had three big steals which changed the momentum of the contest. Following the game, Lorigan praised Clark's ability to stay calm and continue to execute, despite her team being down on the scoreboard.
"This team has no panic, Shae just never panics," Lorigan said. "You can tell that she's played the game and she is the calming influence for the young kids that are looking to her for that kind of leadership. When you get in a situation like that, Shae comes through. I can't remember a time in a tight game that she hasn't come through since she's been playing for us. Even if she struggles a little bit, when the time comes, when push comes to shove, she comes through and she did it again tonight late in the game."
Paul and Clark combined for 27 points in the second half and the River Hawks' backcourt tandem went 14-for-20 from the free throw line including 11-for-13 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
The thrilling comeback win raised Armstrong's record to 3-0 on the campaign and 2-0 in section play. The River Hawks will continue an early season homestand with their fourth straight contest at the Hawks' Nest when they welcome in visiting Mars for another key section battle on Thursday. While the Fightin' Planets lost their leading scorer from a year ago to graduation, Lorigan knows that his team will be in for another battle, something that has become commonplace between these two opponents over the past three seasons.
"[Mars head coach] Dana [Petruska] does a great job, she's one of the best coaches out there and so it's a battle every night to prepare," Lorigan said. "We'll be ready to attack. Everyone learns a little bit more every game, the young kids are continuing to learn and I think Emma matured tonight as the game went on and got an idea of how teams are going to guard her. We're trying to go 1-0 every night."
For a complete re-broadcast of Armstrong's 56-54 victory over Indiana, click the link below: