WRIGHT TWP. — Noticing a loose ball bounding for anybody’s taking, Rebecca Rutkowski scrambled from one sideline to the other and went into a head-first dive for it.
Upon securing the errant inbounds pass, the 6-foot Rutkowski simultaneously whipped a behind-the-back bounce pass that hit one of her Crestwood teammates in stride.
The sight of the Comets’ star dusting the girls basketball floor with her uniform Thursday shouldn’t have come as a complete shock. After all, she did just about everything else for Crestwood.
Rutkowski scored 22 points, blocked nine shots and pulled down 11 rebounds while sparking the Comets over Wyoming Valley West 63-50 in a battle of one-loss teams fighting for the Wyoming Valley Conference Division I lead.
“We all really wanted this,” Rutkowski said.
Nobody more so than Rutkowski.
Facing Valley West’s 6-2 center Olivia Hoffman - who missed the first meeting between the teams with a knee injury - Rutkowski went right to work. From the start, Crestwood’s senior standout showed off the form that made her a Pennsylvania All-State selection last season by blocking three shots and scoring seven points in the first quarter - including a three-point play that gave the Comets their first lead, 14-12.
“A lot of people said Olivia’s better than me,” Rutkowski said. “She’s taller than me, I don’t really get that a lot. I think I can overcome anything people throw at me. When people say you can’t do something, you want to go do that.”
What Rutkowski did was completely shut down the inside on Valley West.
She blocked two more shots and made three steals on inside passes during the second quarter while scoring eight points as Crestwood began to break away by halftime 32-26.
“Blocking’s one of the things I’m best at,” Rutkowski said.
Her driving layup midway through the third quarter gave Crestwood its first double-digit lead of the night, 39-28, and her two buckets in the final quarter both stalled Valley West momentum as the Spartans were trying to create a dramatic comeback.
“She’s good,” smiled Crestwood coach Pat Brogan, whose 14-3 team took control of Division I with a 9-1 record. “Olivia (Hoffman) is a great player. I think it motivated Rebecca. It got her to work more on her skill, she played fundamental basketball. She had 11 blocks against Pocono Mountain (on Tuesday), nine tonight - and two or three that were almost blocks. What player has 20 blocks in two games? That’s a skill.
“She played a great game.”
That game also created space for Crestwood’s 5-11 forward Maddie Ritsick, who also scored 22 points and helped put the game away with five straight points in the fourth quarter.
“We have an advantage,” Brogan said. “We have two girls who are big, strong, athletic and they’re skilled. I challenged the both of them to utilize their God-given skills, to just play basketball. If there’s a physical war, basketball wins out. Basketball wins, skill wins.”
At the start, Cheyenne Reese had Valley West winning.
The Spartans forward maneuvered inside to score 10 of her team-high 18 points in the first quarter, helping Valley West forge a 10-6 lead in a back-and-forth battle through the game’s opening four minutes.
But Rutkowski and Ritsick quickly shut the paint down, and Valley West’s scoring output began to dwindle.
The Spartans needed a three-point goal from Erin Gibbons to pull within 24-29 in the second quarter, but managed just seven other points in the period. Then they were held to six in the third quarter, and Ritsick’s three-pointer and two free throws by Dallas Kendra sent Crestwood into the final eight minutes holding a 48-32 lead.
Valley West didn’t go quietly before falling to 7-2 in Division I and to 11-4 overall with its second loss of the season to the Comets.
The Spartans opened the fourth quarter on a nine-point run, and when Hoffman dropped two foul shots suddenly Crestwood’s lead was chopped to seven points.
But Rutkowski flashed to the basket for a Crestwood layup for a 50-41 Comets lead, and Valley West never got closer. Ritsick helped stem the tied with a three-point play and a field goal, in succession, and Rutkowski added a hook shot for good measure.
“We just came back and realized we needed to win this,” said Rutkowski, who added four steals to her night.
“It’s always good to win, it does beat losing,” Brogan said. “All we want to do is beat Coughlin on Monday. There are tough games ahead.”
* * *
Crestwood 63, Wyoming Valley West 50
WYOMING VALLEY WEST (50) — Tara Judge 2 0-0 4, Cassie Smicherko 1 2-4 4, Cheyenne Reese 8 2-2 18, Megan Kane 1 0-2 2, Oliva Hoffman 2 2-2 6, Erin Gibbons 4 2-2 11, Savannah Piazza 0 0-0 0, Gabby Smicherko 0 3-4 3, Colleen Cwalina 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 11-16 50.
CRESTWOOD (63) — Dallas Kendra 2 3-4 8, Rebecca Rutkowski 9 4-5 22, Maury Cronauer 2 4-4 8, Taryn Wojnar 1 0-0 3, Maddie Ritsick 7 7-9 22, Heather Muse 0 0-2 0, Abbie Macko 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 18-24 63.
Wyoming Valley West`16`10`6`18`—`50
Three-point goals — WVW 1 (Gibbons); CRES 3 (Kendra, Wojnar, Ritsick).