By VINCE PELUSO — email@example.com
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
The Pymatuning Valley Lakers fought through a flat atmosphere and hot start by the Ledgemont Redskins to capture an all-important Northeastern Athletic Conference win, 65-51, at home Friday night.
Austin Nowakowski hit five first-half 3-pointers to spark a sluggish Laker offense early on while Quintin Ratliff poured in 15 of his game-high 25 points in the first 16 minutes to lead PV.
“There wasn’t much flow early in the game,” Lakers coach Ryan Fitch said. “We made a couple adjustments getting to the rim and the kids did a good job of creating some enthusiasm when there wasn’t much out there.”
Ledgemont’s Anthony Jennings seemed determined to take on PV himself, scoring the first six Redskin points, totaling 12 of the team’s 17 in the first period.
But after that, the Lakers (10-3, 5-2) adjusted and Jennings scored just seven over the next three periods for his team-high 19.
“Anthony’s a good player, he makes everyone else around him better,” Fitch said. “He does a good job seeing the floor, distributing the ball. We just tried to make an adjustment to get him to shoot more jump shots.
“He was getting too deep into the lane, shooting too many shots from 6 to 7 feet. So we tried to contain him a little better and make him hit some contested shots.”
Thanks in large part to the efforts of Nowakowski and Ratliff, the Lakers turned a 17-16 lead at the end of the first quarter to a 36-26 lead that half.
That second period was capped by an impressive crossover and midrange jumper in transition by Ratliff in the final seconds.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Fitch said. “Teams pressure us like they did and he has the ability to just go around people and just get to the rim. He’s also got a good mid-range game, he can stop and hit those little 10-12 footers. When he’s playing like that he’s tough to stop.”
A Ratliff layup stretched the Laker lead to 15 at 46-31 midway through the third.
The Redskins (6-6, 4-2) would chip away at that lead with six straight points from Jennings to close out the third and cut the deficit to 12, but they would get no closer.
Turnovers by the Redskins, thanks to PV’s swarming defense, limited any comeback possibilities.
Nowakowski (16 points) and Tim Cross (10 points, 7 assists) tied for a game-high five steals as the Lakers forced 23 turnovers.
For Ledgemont coach George Fronk, that was the difference in the game.
“I look at that final score and that’s because we had to come out of our element,” he said. “We had the opportunities, it was just the turnovers. We’d come down and get a steal or a board and we’d get a turnover. We didn’t capitalize on their turnovers, where as they capitalized on ours.”
Fitch was pleased with how his team not only forced turnovers, but also limited them on the offensive end, committing just 13, six of which came in the fourth quarter with the outcome largely decided.
“We did a nice job early in the game forcing some turnovers and getting into the passing lanes a little bit,” Fitch said. “We went to our zone press and caused some problems.
“(Offensively) this is probably, in my four years here, this is our best we’ve been with turnovers. We’re only averaging 10 or 11 a game. For high school basketball, that’s pretty good.”
The win keeps the Lakers tied with Maplewood for the lead in their half of the NAC.
Fitch said winning the league is always his team’s first priority.
“It (the win) is (important) because our first goal as a team is always to win the league and we stepped into the right direction with that win tonight,” he said. “Every year it seems like when the NAC might be down a little bit, there’s great parity. This team we played tonight, they’re good. They’re huge. They’re strong.
“We gotta play hard every day in this league.”