JOHNSTOWN - The Amsterdam Lady Rams had erased the Johnstown Lady Bills' eight-point lead in a hurry, but Hope Cerasuolo stopped the bleeding.
She scored off a rebound to restore Johnstown's lead and the Lady Bills hit three foul shots down the stretch to secure a 36-33 win in Saturday's non-league girls basketball game.
"It was definitely nervewracking, but coach told us to not play to lose, play to win," said Cerasuolo, who scored a game-high 14 points. "He just told us to keep pushing forward."
Johnstown’s Hope Cerasuolo shoots over Amsterdam’s Kelly Paris during Saturday’s non-league girls basketball game at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
The Lady Bills, however, spent more time hanging on.
After Cerasuolo's putback, Amsterdam's Latifa Woods-Walker scored off a drive to tie the game again. However, three converted free throws by Jenna Hohenforst, Emma Heroth and Cerasuolo helped secure Johnstown's victory.
"Hope made some big free throws and I thought our guardplay out of Megan Anagnostopulos was solid," Johnstown coach Tim Derwin said. "She did a nice job of distributing the offense and playing under control."
With the Lady Bills leading by three points, the Lady Rams were still had a chance to tie the game. They had the ball with 8.7 seconds remaining, but failed to get a good shot off before the final buzzer sounded.
"I'm very proud of our girls tonight," Amsterdam coach Eric Duemler said. "This is a totally different team than when we played Catholic High. We had two great days of practice where they worked extremely hard. We worked on some things that were glaring needs in the Catholic High game."
The Lady Rams entered the game looking to rebound from Tuesday's 63-16 loss to the Catholic Central Crusaders and took an early lead in the first quarter.
Alexis Swatt gave Johnstown a 6-5 lead with 3:29 to go in the first, but a three-point play by Cristiana Johnson on a foul by Cerasuolo and a jump shot by Sarah Fedullo gave the Lady Rams a 10-6 lead after the first eight minutes.
"I told the girls, the worst thing they could do was come in here and think it's going to be an easy ride," Derwin said. "They play good defense, they hustle and they contest everything."
Courtney Cirillo put back an offensive rebound to cut the lead to two points with just 42 seconds into the quarter before the offense got cold for nearly two minutes. Cerasuolo hit a foul shot to pull the Lady Bills to within one and Hohenforst's basket gave Johnstown an 11-10 lead with 5:13 to go in the second.
Then with the game tied at 13, Cirillo and Brianne O'Rourke scored to give the Lady Bills a 17-13 halftime lead.
"Coach just told us they weren't going to give up and that we had to play as hard as we can and he knew we could do it, but it was up to us to put it through," Cerasuolo said.
The intensity picked up on both sides to start the third quarter as Johnstown's Heroth and Cirillo each picked up their third personal fouls within the first minute. Alexis Swatt also picked up three fouls in the space of a minute.
"That was kind of the story of the whole game, unforced errors," Derwin said. "We want to get up in your face. We want to play aggressive, but we want to play smart. My two good seniors, Courtney and Emma, got two fouls early. Hand-checking and chest bumping, stuff that's not in our game plan, and they choose to do it."
The most costly foul came with 5:38 to go in the game. After the Lady Bills had built an eight-point lead, Swatt fouled Johnson behind the 3-point arc with 1 second left on the shot clock, giving her three chances from the line. She converted all three, cutting the Lady Bills' lead to five points.
"That let them right back into the game," Derwin said.
Six of the final eight points for Amsterdam (0-3 overall) came from the foul line.
"We are a good foul-shooting team," Duemler said. "It doesn't always show in games. Tonight, they made their foul shots."
The Lady Bills (2-1 overall) will get right back to work Monday night when they host Scotia-Glenville in their Foothills Council opener.
"Cassie Broadhead is one of the best players in the state of New York and the country," Derwin said. "We have to come up with a game plan to stop them. The one thing you can't do with her is put her on the line. She's just automatic."
Johnstown 36, Amsterdam 33
Amsterdam10 3 10 10 - 33
Johnstown6 11 10 9 - 36
Woods-Walker 3-3-9, Paris 2-0-4, Ressel 0-2-2, Johnson 2-7-11, Fedullo 1-0-2, McDonald 1-3-5. Totals: 9-15-33.
Cerasuolo 4-6-14, Cirillo 2-4-8, Hohenforst 1-1-3, Swatt 1-0-2, Heroth 2-1-5, O'Rourke 1-0-2. Totals: 12-12-36.
3-point goals: none.