By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
In their first circuit around the Premier Athletic Conference, the Geneva girls survived three overtime games. But in their first league rematch, they were knocked from the unbeaten ranks by North.
The host Rangers survived a second-half comeback by the Eagles, and used nine 3-point field goals and near-perfect foul shooting in the fourth quarter to pull out a 52-46 win on Saturday afternoon.
Natalie Thomas had an 18-point, 17-rebound, three-block performance, but it wasn’t enough to upend North (6-5, 4-3), which had been one of the Eagles’ overtime victims, 49-44 on Dec. 8.
“I think it validates (my players’) thinking,” North coach Paul Force said. “I think our girls think that we’re as good as anybody on our schedule.”
“It is (a tough loss),” Geneva coach Nancy Barbo said. “But you know? You learn a lot from losses. Hopefully we can come back and be a better team from it.”
Geneva (10-1, 6-1) stormed back from a deficit that reached 30-20 early in the third quarter, beginning with a 9-0 stretch. It caught the Rangers at 34 on a Thomas putback early in the fourth period. It then took the lead three times, with the Rangers regaining the advantage via free throws on the first two of those occasions.
Geneva’s final lead was achieved when Alyssa Scott drove the baseline for a basket for a 41-40 edge under the four-minute mark. Becky Depp split two free throws to make it 42-40 with 3:03 left, but moments later North took the lead for good when Allie Guy grabbed an offensive board and found Mackenzy Schaefer (11 points) for her third trey.
Steph Chlad (8 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) then stole the ball and converted a driving underhand layup. Following a Geneva miss, Schaefer made a one-and-one with 1:28 left, making it seven consecutive Ranger points and a 47-42 lead.
The Eagles cut it to 47-46 with 49.9 seconds to go on a driving layup and then two free throws by Lindsey Mayle (11 points). However, Chlad answered with two foul shots as Sarah Depp fouled out. Mayle then sprained her ankle while turning the ball over, and Lexi Balausky (10 points) added two more free throws.
Following a Geneva miss, Chlad split two charity tosses at the 11.2-second mark. The miss on her second attempt, which came after the outcome was pretty much decided, ended her team’s string of 11-straight makes in the quarter after having gone to the line just once beforehand.
Barbo said that Mayle had an ankle sprain and hoped she will be ready to play after a couple days.
“(We were) just a little undisciplined towards the end,” Barbo said. “Obviously North hit their free throws, but we put them at the line sooner than we wanted to. I think that was key in that we take the lead and put them right on the line. We have to have better body control in that situation.”
“Mental toughness on our part (to win after seeing the 10-point lead disappear),” Force said. “During that stretch of the game, they were taking Lynsey (Englebrecht, who scored 10 of her team-high 13 points in the first half, and played the fourth quarter with four fouls) out of the game. So when teams do that, they force someone else to have opportunities to make shots and play.”
The Eagles made good on 14 of 18 free throws themselves, but managed just 27.5-percent shooting (14-of-51) from the floor. The Rangers were just a bit better percentage-wise at 30.2 (16-of-53), but that included the nine 3-pointers, five more than Geneva.
“It is hard, because they’re good at penetrating and drawing the help and pitching,” Barbo said. “What can you do? You help and then try to recover.
“I thought we did a decent job on (Englebrecht, who also had 4 assists). We held her below her average; she is obviously a focus for us. But they had people that stepped up and hit big shots, and we were pretty cold from the field.”
Barbo further related that her team didn’t get too many good looks from the outside, and rushed the ones they got.
“You’ve got to be able to knock down good looks when you have them,” she said. “We struggled with that tonight.”
“In the first half, it was really an emphasis to stay close to Becky and Lindsey,” Force said. “They really hurt us with some outside shots, especially Lindsey.”
Geneva led on the boards 47-33, including 11-6 in team rebounds. The differential was just 20-17 at halftime, and Force thought that was key for his smaller Rangers being able to grab a 21-14 lead at that point.
“I think late, it was moreso taking advantage of opportunities,” he said. “The girls seized the moment today; I’m very proud of them.”
A nine-point run, on 3-pointers by Chlad, Englebrecht and Schaefer, gave the Rangers an 18-10 lead. Thomas put in all seven of her team’s points in the first period, after which the Eagles trailed, 9-7.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.