PARK HILLS – The Mineral Area women’s basketball program entered this season with four freshman starters and an imperative search for scoring balance around star forward Holly Forbes.
Natalia Lalic embraced that challenge on Wednesday evening by sinking four 3-point shots within the first 13 minutes against visiting Vincennes.
Once the perimeter accuracy slightly wavered, the guard from Adelaide, Australia, provided a glimpse of her versatility by either attacking off the dribble or cutting around screens.
Lalic netted a season-best 23 points with three steals, and the Lady Cardinals shot 53 percent from the field to secure an uplifting 78-55 triumph at Sechrest Fieldhouse.
Forbes tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds for her sixth double-double, and Masyn McWilliams poured in 10 points among 10 players in the scoring column for Mineral Area (8-3).
The Lady Cardinals stifled an opposing offense that generated 99 points or more against five previous opponents. Vincennes (8-4) shot just 31 percent overall, including 5-of-25 from long range.
Forbes backed a defender down, and McWilliams slashed inside to ignite Mineral Area early. Caitlyn Holmes then drew a charging foul after Lalic sank her first triple.
Lalic landed two more strikes with a quick release, and the home team surged ahead 22-10 as Georgia Sideri found McWilliams on a back cut before the first quarter expired.
Forbes received a brief rest, and the Trailblazers opened the second with a steal and layup by Jaynice Stovall plus a third-chance follow by forward Fess Hawkins.
Christina de la Cruz Fuente provided all nine of her points in a hurry off the Vincennes bench, and her club drew within 30-24 before MAC was bolstered by its own reserves.
Lainey Bell made two free throws after claiming an offensive rebound along the weak side, then guided a nifty diagonal assist to Forbes, who was 7-of-10 shooting on the night.
Sideri knocked down a corner three after Keanna Williams scored a conventional 3-point play through traffic, and the Lady Cardinals seemed safely ahead 40-31 at halftime.
The only sustained defensive lapse for Mineral Area occurred early in the third quarter, as five team fouls were committed within the first five minutes.
Stovall paced Vincennes with 20 points while making eight consecutive free throws. Her third perfect pair from the stripe trimmed the margin to 45-43.
Lalic countered with a frenzied layup after Holmes stole back a rebound she originally lost, and the Lady Cardinals would commence a crucial 22-4 run spanning more than eight minutes.
Lalic restored a 57-47 spread by faking a pass while elevating for a layup with 4 seconds left, and Bell nailed a 3-pointer after rebounding a miss and resetting the offense early in the fourth.
A technical foul was assessed on the Vincennes coach after an apparent traveling violation was not called, and Lalic swished both resulting free throws.
Forbes scored off a steal to make it 71-49, and the final count represented the largest difference in the game after Kinsley Payne hit a follow jumper from about 7 feet.
Holmes had four assists to lead Mineral Area, and scrambled on the deck several times in effort to save possessions. She needed several seconds to steady herself while propped up on both hands and feet following a collision with Ivanda Hudjukova, who was trapped beneath her as play continued.
Hawkins collected 10 points and seven rebounds for the Trailblazers, who will host a scheduled rematch during the final week of the regular season in western Indiana.
The Lady Cardinals will host John Wood as part of the Rotary Shootout on Saturday.