By Owen O'Brien firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — SANBORN — Both Niagara Community’s men’s and women’s basketball teams opened their seasons with six road victories. Finally at home Thursday night, their hot starts didn’t fizzle.
The women’s team began the evening with a 90-60 victory and the men closed the night with a 93-82 win, both over Pitt-Titusville. Kristine Ripson led all scorers in the first game with 26 points and Eli Jones had 23 for the men.
The men’s team began its home opener with an 11-2 run before the Panthers pulled the game within four a few minutes later. The Thunderwolves led through the chippy — 29 personal fouls – first half, but the Panthers closed the gap to one with about six minutes remaining before halftime.
NCCC gained momentum to close the half and finished the opening 20 minutes with a 49-36 lead.
EJ Sandoval dominated inside the paint throughout with 18 points and 13 rebounds, including 16 points and eight boards at halftime. Sandoval shot a perfect 12 of 12 at the line.
“Coach always talks about position in practice, so I just wanted to out there and produce the position that would lead to an easy basket,” Sandoval said.
The NCCC defense held Pitt-Titusville to just 28.6 percent shooting in the first half, compared to the Thunderwolves’ 45.9 percent. The Thunderwolves shot 44 percent from the field overall, as opposed to the Panthers’ 38.7 percent.
"As long as we play tougher than any team we play, we can’t be beat,” Sandoval said.
Jones closed the game at the line for the Thunderwolves, going 7 of 11 total from the charity stripe.
The women’s team came out of the locker room strong after a tight first half. It began the second with a 17-7 run in the opening nine minutes and held a lead of over 20 points for the majority of the half.
“We knew we had to start playing team defense,” said head coach Nate Beutel. “We didn’t play a lick of it in the first half.”
Niagara’s Kristine Ripson took control of the offense late in first half, scoring 10 consecutive points and continued this success into the final 20 minutes. She finished going 9 of 12 from the field while 8 of 9 at the free throw line.
“Kristine’s our go-to scoring offense,” Beutel said. “She has been for the last two years. There are certain times where we tell her, ‘You have to dominate,’ and that was one of those times. Once she does that, we are at our best.”
Pitt-Titusville’s lone lead of the first game, 7-6, was answered with a 13-2 NCCC run and its largest lead of the half. Jaclyn Welch and Alba Perez combined for 11 points of the 13 points.
The Thunderwolves discussed all week how they had a height advantage coming into the game and exploited it early. They won the rebounding margin 48-23, including 21-7 in the first half.
Jesse DeWaters created offensive opportunities for herself and her teammates throughout the evening, finishing with 17 points, eight assists and four rebounds.
“She’s the one that makes us go,” Beutel said. “She’s the maestro out on the court. She’s the one who gets us into our offense and our defense and keeps us calm on the court. She was the piece we needed to make us a quality team and she showed it tonight.”
Samantha Marak scored 13-first half points for Pitt-Titusville, including six of the Lady Panthers’ final eight to bring the score to 45-39 after the first 20 minutes.
Both teams shot over 50 percent in the first half – NCCC at 61.3 percent and Pitt-Titusville at 51.6 – but the Lady Panthers shot just 25 percent in the second. The Thunderwolves finished the game better than 50 percent from the field (51.7 percent).
“It was nice to put on a show for the fans,” Sandoval said.
Both teams will return to the road to face Cuyahoga CC on Saturday. Tip for the women is 1 p.m. and the men will follow. Both teams return home on Dec. 4 to host Cayuga CC. The women will play first again and tip at 5:30 p.m.