WRIGHT TWP. — For a short spell during the third quarter, Maddie Ritsick left the game with blood on her jersey.
It was about the only thing that stopped her from scoring in the second half.
She returned moments later, wearing a new jersey and new number but with the same production she started a split-second before halftime. And Crestwood needed every bit of it to lock up a share of the Wyoming Valley Conference Division I title.
Ritsick scored all 20 of her points after the halftime horn sounded, including the winning foul shot with four seconds to play to lift Crestwood to a 52-51 victory over Pittston Area and assure the Comets at least a tie for the division championship.
“It feels so good. I knew we could do it,” Ritsick said. “It got rough - I mean the score - at different points in the game. But we pulled it out and won as a team.”
To do it, the Comets had to fend off a hard-charging Pittston Area team led by a suffocating defense and a tremendous offensive effort by Eastin Ashby, who finished with an 18-point night.
“I knew we could do it,” Ritsick kept saying after helping her Crestwood team improve to 11-1 in WVC Division I play with two regular season games remaining. “We just stuck with it.”
In the beginning, Crestwood stuck it from the outside, as Dallas Kendra, Maury Cronauer and Taryn Wojnar all popped 3-point field goals in the first quarter to get the Comets out to a 17-7 lead.
But the Patriots roared back, double-teaming Crestwood’s all-state forward Rebecca Rutkowski and creating turnovers with positioning and quickness.
Pittston Area, which fell to 9-3 in Division I and to 14-4 overall, scored the first seven points of the second quarter. And when Liz Waleski tossed in a short jumper 2:03 before halftime, suddenly the Patriots had a 22-21 lead.
“They never quit, that’s for sure,” Pittston Area coach Kathy Healey smiled about her team.
At the end of the half, Ritsick - who was held scoreless to that point - drew a foul at the buzzer and made a free throw that did little more than draw Crestwood within 24-22 at the break.
But it was a sign of things to come.
Ritsick scored five straight points to open the second half as the Comets regained the lead. And after departing the floor for just one possession to change her No. 42 jersey to No. 3, she continued her scoring spree that lasted the final two quarters.
“When I was going up for a basket, she cut me,” Ritsick, sporting a spot under her lower lip after the game, said of a Pittston Area defender. “I started with the (next) play, but I had to come out.”
Not for long.
Ritsick racked up 11 points in the third quarter, and when Kendra drilled her second 3-pointer, Crestwood had a 42-35 lead with a quarter remaining.
That grew to 10 points when Ritsick popped a trey of her own in the early moments of the fourth quarter as the Comets appeared to take complete control.
“The second half, we adjusted,” Crestwood coach Pat Brogan said, “to the officials, to the physicality of Pittston, to that style of play. We did a great job.”
Hold on, though. The Patriots weren’t quite finished.
Eastin Ashby and Waleski both buried 3-pointers, Taryn Ashby cut to the basket for a bucket, and when Eastin Ashby converted to foul shots, the game was tied again 49-49 with 1:57 remaining. And with nine seconds to play, Waleski dropped a runner from inside the foul line to even things up again 51-51.
“We put the press on, the kids came back,” Healey said. “We played hard.”
But the Comets had one more bullet left, and turned to Ritsick to fire it.
She responded by sinking the first of her two free throw attempts, but that was enough to lift Crestwood to at least a share of the Division I title.
“All the noise … I just had to concentrate and block all the noise out,” Ritsick said.
“We knew she wasn’t going to miss two,” Healey said. “To lose by one is a heartbreaker.”
Now, Crestwood will try to break away from the second-place pack in the division for good. The Comets host Hazleton Area on Monday, with a chance to avenge their lone league defeat and lock up the Division I crown at the same time.
“We have business to take care of Monday night,” Brogan said.
* * *
Crestwood 52, Pittston Area 51
PITTSTON AREA (51) — Allie Barber 0 0-0 0, Liz Waleski 6 1-2 15, Jackie Rabender 3 0-0 6, Taryn Ashby 3 3-4 10, Eastin Ashby 6 6-6 18, Marley O’Brien 0 0-0 0, Jamie Chisdock 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 10-12 50.
CRESTWOOD (51) — Dallas Kendra 5 2-2 14, Rebecca Rutkowski 4 0-0 8, Maury Cronauer 3 0-1 7, Taryn Wojnar 1 0-0 3, Maddie Ritsick 5 9-12 20, Heather Muse 0 0-0 0, Abbie Macko 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 11-15 51.
Three-point goals — PA 5 (Waleski 2, E. Ashby 2, T. Ashby); CREST 5 (Kendra 2, Cronauer, Wojnar, Ritsick).