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It was a slow start and a tough finish for the Marietta College Pioneers in Tuesday night’s season opener at Ban Johnson Arena against the Washington and Jefferson Presidents.
The Pioneers fell behind early, rallied to make things interesting, and then faded down the stretch as the Presidents pulled away with a 67-53 win.
“It wasn’t a very good start for us and we didn’t do a very good job on things that we’re working on all the time.” MC head coach Kole Vivian said. “We just weren’t as close as we wanted to be.”
The Pioneers struggled throughout the game to hold off Washington and Jefferson sophomores Bryn Bezjak, Meghan Dryburgh and Adalynn Cherry as the trio combined for 55 of the President’s points.
W&J came out clicking on all cylinders as they quickly built an 18-6 lead with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
Marietta began to show some life when they scored the final five points of the first period on free throws by Devin Hefner and Makenzie Wilson and a 3-pointer by Olivia Gribble.
The Presidents went back to work to open the second period, as they increased their lead to 13 points on a pair of baskets by Bezjak midway through the quarter before the Pios played perhaps their best stretch of basketball to get back in.
A pair of gifts from Kelly Levering, a triple from sophomore Ally Grake and a double from Camille Cummins with an assist from Grake quickly closed the lead to six.
Bezjak briefly slowed Marietta’s momentum with a 2-point shot, but minutes later the Pioneers cut the lead to five on buckets from Erin Hahn and Devin Heffner.
Dryburgh and Hahn each made a pair of free throws to close out the half and send the 19th-ranked Pioneers into the locker room trailing 34-29.
“We showed some fighting going back there and got within striking distance.” Vivian said. “We just never seemed to be able to get over that bad start.”
Marietta started the second half with much more energy than she showed in the first half and quickly got within three on a basket by Hefner, but the Presidents responded with a 3-pointer by Dryburgh and a double by Sarah Berardelli to stretch the score. drive back to six.
The Pioneers needed a spark in the worst way and they got it off the bench of sophomore Paige Tolson.
Tolson’s bucket with 5:42 remaining in the third cut the lead to four, and she followed that up by making one of two in the charity slot.
Once again, Dryburgh came up with a clutch bucket for the Presidents, but Tolson responded with a 3-pointer and so the Pioneers were down just two with just over four minutes left in the third.
“She (Tolson) grew a lot over the last year and was very proud of her effort tonight.” said Vivian of the Federal Hocking graduate. “She didn’t get to play much last year, but she’s done it all this year and she’s becoming a very good leader for us.”
The next minute would prove pivotal for the Presidentes as they scored eight points in less than a minute to push their lead into double figures at 51-41.
Dryburgh’s 3-pointer got things going and after a layup from Bezjak, Berardelli completed an old-fashioned three-point play.
Marietta found a way to trim the lead to seven before the end of the third, but managed to score just four points in the fourth quarter as the Presidents clawed their way to victory.
Bezjak led all scorers with 19 points and also grabbed eight rebounds, while Dryburgh added 18 points along with a game-high 13 rebounds.
Adalynn Cherry added 18 points of her own, including four from behind the three-point line for a team that made a solid 9-0f-20 shot attempts from behind the arc.
Marietta was led by Tolson, who chipped in 11 points off the bench, while Heffner, Hahn and Wilson added nine, eight and seven points, respectively.
The Pioneers connected on just 29 percent of their shot attempts (20-69) despite outrebounding the Presidents, 49-39.
Vivian hopes the loss will serve as a wake-up call for her team, which got off to a great start last year.
“Last year, we didn’t lose our first game until December 12, so now we have to work out some things and hopefully we can recover along the way.” Vivian said. “There is going to be some good in this if we choose to find the good in this.”
The Pioneers will hit the road at 6 pm on Friday when they take on San Vicente.