PORT BYRON — Port Byron finally got some breathing room in the final seconds of the third quarter.

Mariah Howell completed the three-point play with a foul shot to give the Panthers a six-point lead, and the Port Byron girls basketball team's defense went to work in the fourth quarter in a 51-43 win over Pulaski in Port Byron Thursday.

"The kids were excited about that. It gave us some fire and gave us the momentum," Panthers coach Mindy Gilbert said of Howell's play at the end of the third. "Then we came out and played good defense in the fourth quarter. That last possession that Pulaski had, I thought our defense was phenomenal. They didn't even get a shot off.

"The kids had that game and they wanted it so bad that they dug down and played good defense."

Port Byron's Ava Mills recorded 19 points, six rebounds, two steals and a pair of assists, while Jodyn Baker added 12 points, five boards, five assists and three steals. Howell had seven points, four rebounds, three steals and three assists off the bench, and Keyara Allen finished with five points, six boards and two steals.

With limited height in their lineup, the Panthers have to focus on other aspects of the game.

"We have to rely on our speed to make up for the lack of height we have," Gilbert said. "We like to get the ball out and run, and hopefully get into a transition game."

Port Byron struggled in the first quarter, allowed Pulaski to score the final seven points of the first quarter and trailed 12-5 after the eight minute mark.

The Panthers were able to regroup in the second quarter. Shelby Weatherwax gave Port Byron the lead with a minute left and the Panthers had a 20-18 advantage at halftime.

"We started out flat shooting-wise," Gilbert said. "I think we had good shot opportunities, they just weren't falling. I told the kids that they had to let that go, they'll start falling, just keep playing your game. In the second quarter, some of the shots started to fall and gave them confidence to continue to move forward."

Port Byron maintained a small lead throughout most of the third, but Howell was fouled on a shot in the last few seconds and the senior completed the three-point play to double the Panthers' lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"That three-point play definitely gave us some intensity and fire," Gilbert said.

The Blue Devils cut their deficit to three at one point in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers went on a 7-2 run to pull away in the final minutes.

Port Byron (3-3) looks to keep rolling when it plays Union Springs in the first round of the Cayuga County Holiday Tournament at Cayuga Community College Wednesday.

"I think this was a big win for us. It was a league win and the kids really wanted this one bad to carry into the Christmas tournament," Gilbert said. "We're looking forward to playing Union Springs. I think that's going to be a very competitive game as well."

Sports writer Jeremy Houghtaling can be reached at 315-282-2256 or at jeremy.houghtaling@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenHough.