By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- On an afternoon when offense was apparently still on Christmas vacation, the Amsterdam Lady Rams -- and senior point guard Ashlee McDonald -- made the shots that counted the most.
With the Lady Rams nursing a two-point lead over Geneva in the final minute of the opening game of the Manor Glass Holiday Showcase Friday at Amsterdam High School, McDonald popped open beyond the arc, just to the left of the top of the key, and calmly swished her jumper through the net.
McDonald's first 3-pointer of the season with 27.2 seconds to play gave the Lady Rams the breathing room they needed to hold on for a hard-fought, foul-filled 37-33 victory.
"It was really rough, but we were able to pull it together, stick together and end up winning," McDonald said. "That was a good win for us."
Especially considering that Amsterdam was coming into the game off a disappointing home loss to Bishop Maginn a week earlier and entered the weekend showcase with some trepidation on the heels of a less-than-stellar practice.
"We have good practices before games, and we just had a bad practice," McDonald said. "We were kind of shaky coming into this, but we were able to come through."
McDonald scored 10 points -- Cristiana Johnson led the way for Amsterdam (3-4) in the scoring column with a game-high 11 -- but her poise in running the Lady Rams' offense during a game that never swung more than six points in the favor of either team earned massive praise from AHS head coach Eric Duemler.
"I thought Ashlee played probably her best game at the varsity level," Duemler said. "Not only knocking down that basket and making some foul shots, but hitting her teammates for some great assists in transition that gave us some easy baskets. I told her I was very proud of her -- she played great today, and we needed that."
Defensively, Amsterdam stifled Geneva throughout the game, limiting opportunities for the Lady Panthers' frontcourt tandem of Alisia Griffin and Mia Morrison. Primarily relying on a 3-2 zone -- with a 1-3-1 look sprinkled in during some stretches -- the Lady Rams limited Geneva to just one field goal the entire first half, a driving Bethany Jolly layup with 5:40 left in the second quarter.
The only reason Geneva was able to even get within 15-13 at the half was a massive early advantage in sheer volume at the free throw line -- the Lady Panthers were 11 of 16 at the charity stripe in the first half, while Amsterdam was 6 of 8. The Lady Rams cut down on the fouling in the second half -- Geneva was just 5 of 13 from the line after the half -- but the defense continued to clamp down in what McDonald called the Lady Rams' best defensive effort of the season.
"I don't think we've played better defense before," she said. "It was really tight. We were able to change it off and on, we knew what we were doing."
Most importantly for Duemler, the Lady Rams -- who had been susceptible to getting hurt by opponents on second- and third-chance baskets in the early portions of the season -- limited Geneva's bigger frontcourt players on the offensive glass.
"They do work on the boards, and I think in our 3-2 we boxed out well," Duemler said. "They did a nice job being physical and not trying to out-jump anybody. There's nobody on our team that's going to out-jump anyone, so we have to be physical, hold the box-out and go get the ball."
Amsterdam took the lead for good at 23-21 on a pair of McDonald free throws with 4:40 left in the third quarter, but there were few comfortable moments for the Lady Rams down the stretch. Though the lead ballooned to as many as six points late in the third quarter, Geneva remained within easy striking distance throughout the fourth quarter.
It wasn't until McDonald's clutch 3-pointer in the closing minute -- followed by a McDonald steal in the waning seconds to cap off a string of late defensive stops -- that the Lady Rams could finally breathe easy.
"Our goal was just to take any open shot we could," McDonald said. "We wanted to try to drive to the basket, get any open layups. (The 3-pointer) was wide-open, so I just had to knock it down."
Amsterdam concludes its play in the showcase today at 2:15 p.m. with a tilt against Kingston.