DELMAR The Bethlehem girls basketball team pressed Averill Park into submission.
The Lady Eagles forced 30 Warrior turnovers with their full-court press on their way to a 71-48 victory in last Friday's Suburban Council South Division opener in Delmar.
"This is the best I've seen it work so far, but it's something we've been emphasizing and working on," Bethlehem coach Matt Bixby said of the press. "The more we can force turnovers, the more offense we can create."
Nobody benefited more from Bethlehem's press than Gabby Giacone. The sophomore forward hit several layups on her way to a 31-point night.
Bixby said Giacone has improved her game significantly since her freshman season, when she was one of Bethlehem's leading scorers.
"She's the classic example of the kid who put in the time during the off-season," said Bixby. "She worked hard on her own, and she played for the Albany City Rocks (an area AAU team). Her game has definitely matured."
Bethlehem had a difficult time capitalizing on Averill Park's turnovers early on. The Lady Eagles missed several layups in the first four minutes of the game, which contributed to an 8-4 deficit.
Eventually, Bethlehem's shots started falling. The Lady Eagles closed out the first quarter on a 17-2 run and built a 34-25 halftime lead.
"I think early on, what you saw was first game jitters," said Bixby. "That is why we missed a lot of early shots. But once we settled down, we were able to hit our layups."
Averill Park wasn't going to fall without a fight. The defending Section II Class A champions opened the third quarter on a 10-4 run to cut Bethlehem's lead to three points, but Bethlehem ended the game by outscoring the Warriors 33-13.
Freshman guard Jenna Giacone contributed 10 points, while senior guard Bridget Murphy added nine points for Bethlehem. Alison Nunziato had 10 points to pace Averill Park.
The Averill Park win gives Bethlehem momentum to work off of as it starts a stretch of three tough South Division games in a row. The Lady Eagles host an improved Guilderland squad Tuesday before meeting defending Section II Class AA champion Colonie Friday.
"I'm not sure if we could have a tougher start to our season," said Bixby. "But in the bigger picture, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't test ourselves right away."