By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
All season, Conneaut girls basketball coach Tony Pasanen has pushed his team to step it up. He could not have been happier about what he witnessed in the fourth quarter by the Spartans on Monday night.
The Spartans (5-14) outscored Lakeside 17-2 in the game’s final minutes to secure a 51-39 win over the Dragons (3-15) at Garcia gymnasium.
“This was a great win and a great team effort,” Spartan forward Lexi Zappitelli said. “At halftime, we thought our defense was OK, our offense was keeping us in it. We had to step it up on defense.”
Zappitelli had a game-high 24 points to lead her team.
“It feels good when you score that many, but the win feels a lot better,” the junior said.
Pasanen was feeling pretty good about things, as well.
“I can’t say enough about our team tonight,” Pasanen said. “We’ve been talking all year about taking it to the next level. We’ve grown so much as a team this year, individually we’ve improved skill-wise but we have also had to learn how to play together, how to make in-game adjustments, how to close out games and win together.”
Lakeside took a 3-point lead on a layup from Shaquisse Hunt with less than6 minutes to go in the ball game. From there, the Spartans ran off the final 15 points of the game.
Natalie Bertoiasio scored to get the Spartans back to within a point. Then Zappitelli nailed a 3-ball to put Conneaut in front for good.
Carly Kay followed with an offensive rebound and put-back followed by Zappitelli delivering a dagger — another triple from the top of the key to put the Spartans up 9.
Aside from Zappitelli’s 24, Kay had 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
“What she did for us tonight was unbelievable,” Pasanen said. “That’s what we’ve been missing this year, an inside presence. We’ve been telling her all year the only thing holding her back is confidence. She’s starting to see what she is capable of now and with her on the outside and Lexi and Natalie from the outside, we can be a much better team.”
Frustrated, Lakeside Coach Dave Malone had to watch his team drop another game.
“This game is where we are this year,” Malone said. “We were up at halftime; typically, we come out in the third quarter and dig ourselves a little hole with a turnover or three bad shots or whatever. And then we have to fight to turn it around.
“One problem we face this year is a lack of depth. We started three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior tonight. The problem is we use up a lot of our players during the JV game. In the fourth quarter, you need that energy and we didn’t have it available.”
Lakeside trailed 16-11 after the first quarter, but came back to outscore the Spartans 17-11 in the second stanza to go up by a point at intermission.
After turning the ball over twice in the opening minute of the third quarter and seeing their 1-point advantage turn into a 3-point deficit, the Dragons fought back to outscore Conneaut 9-7, holding a 37-34 advantage going to the final quarter.
The fourth quarter however was dominated by Conneaut, especially at the defensive end.
“In the past, this was a game we could not have won,” Pasanen said. “It took complete team execution and the girls just executed what we needed remarkably. Lexi had the assignment on (Sara) Moorehouse and she held her scoreless in the fourth quarter. Natalie (Bertoiasio), Carly (Kay), Brook, everyone just really stepped it up for us tonight in that fourth quarter.”
Sarah Morehouse led the Dragons with 14 points while Hunt had 9.
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula