By Josh Shreckengost
Armstrong's Emma Paul (4) scores two of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter of the River Hawks' season-opening 71-25 win over Jeannette on January 11, 2020.
Kittanning, Pa. -- After a delayed start to the 2020-21 winter sports season, the Armstrong girls varsity basketball team came out of the gates hot and put together an impressive 71-25 win over visiting Jeannette on Monday night at Armstrong Junior-Senior High School. The impressive season-opening victory put the River Hawks (1-0) on the winning side of the ledger while the loss dropped the Jayhawks to 0-2 on the year.
Jeannette opened the game short-handed as head coach Jonathan Bass was only able to dress seven players due to close contact regulations which cost the Jayhawks four varsity players. The River Hawks opened the game on a 9-0 run, but the Jayhawks brought the contest to within a point at 9-8 following two three-pointers and a bucket midway through the first quarter. That was as close as Jeannette would get as the River Hawks ran off the next 29 points and held the Jayhawks scoreless in the second quarter to open a 37-8 advantage at halftime.
"I thought (Jeannette) really battled tonight and they hit some shots early that kind of caught us off-guard, but our girls came together and really played well," Armstrong head coach Kirk Lorigan said. "I thought our young kids really stepped up again -- they really played well in the scrimmage (against Freeport) on Saturday -- and they continued that tonight. We have a special group of kids that are coming up through and mixed with the experience and leadership we have, I think it showed through tonight."
The second quarter put Armstrong firmly in command of the outcome as the River Hawks outscored the Jayhawks 21-0 in the frame. During the second, Armstrong freshman Emma Paul scored nine of the team's 21 points and played extremely well at both ends of the court. It was quite an impressive varsity debut for the freshman as she led all scorers with 21 points in the contest. Paul also contributed defensively with several steals and hardly looked like a freshman seeing her first varsity minutes.
"The kid put so much time into her game, she's going to be a really great player for us," Lorigan said of Paul. "She can score from anywhere, any way. She can shoot the three, she can drive, she can stop-and-pop and I'm actually surprised that she missed a couple tonight. She's really a special, special player and we're blessed that she's going to be playing for us for the next four years."
The River Hawks also used its size advantage to overwhelm the Jayhawks, especially on the offensive glass. Freshmen Sarai Weaver and Kyla Fitzgerald both played well in their respective varsity debuts and caused fits for Jeannette underneath both offensively and defensively. Weaver poured in 12 points, all in the paint, and Fitzgerald chipped in with eight points and a couple of blocks. Weaver, who stands 5-10, and Fitzgerald at 6-0, give the River Hawks some much-needed size underneath, size that has not been commonplace at Armstrong. Lorigan noted how he and his coaching staff have been able to utilize that depth and flexibility in the lineup depending on situation.
"It's something we're not used to, having that kind of size, we certainly haven't had it since I've been here," Lorigan said. "We like that group and those two (Weaver and Fitzgerald) can run the floor and they rebounded the ball. We thought they'd be able to bring us another 10 points per game just on offensive put-backs and I think they showed tonight that they are capable of playing at this level."
In all, 11 different River Hawks found the scoresheet on a night when Lorigan went deep into his bench to get all of his players some minutes. Mac Riggley led the Jayhawks with 12 points -- all on three-pointers -- and Hannah Nichols pitched in with nine points, though she sat nearly all of the second quarter due to foul trouble. The River Hawks open section play on Thursday night with a home contest against Fox Chapel.
"We have a lot to work on (before Thursday night) and I thought we got a little bit sloppy there defensively, especially in the second half, but we held them to 25 points tonight and when you hold a team to 25 points, you're going to win a lot of games," Lorigan said. "We're going to have a good film session tomorrow and it's our job as coaches to get them into the right situations once we start our section schedule."
To watch the complete re-broadcast of Armstrong's 71-25 win over Jeannette, click the link below: