By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Less than a minute into Geneva’s non-conference matchup with Conneaut, Nancy Barbo asked her team a question that changed everything for both squads. It led to the Eagles’ 56-16 rout of the Spartans at Geneva on Wednesday.
Through that first minute, the score was tied, 4-4. Barbo asked her team, almost rhetorically, if they were OK with trading baskets.
The answer was a resounding no. Geneva (8-6, 6-2) promptly scored the next 12 points and held a 16-4 lead through 8 minutes.
“We pressed a little bit,” Barbo said. “That gave us a little bit of a hop in our step and I think it kind of negated some of the stuff Conneaut was trying to do in the half-court set.”
Natalie Bertolasio and Brooke Bennett each scored on drives to the hoop to offset a jumper from Emily Ball and a layup from Lindsey Mayle. After that, the Spartans (3-12) turned the ball over 10 times in the period.
“With us, it all comes down to decision making,” Conneaut coach Tony Pasanen said. “If we’re making good decisions, we can beat a lot of teams. If we’re not making good decisions, we can’t beat anybody.
“Geneva is too good a team to make poor decisions against. We executed right off the bat, then I don’t know what happened. I’d like to say it was inexperience, but it was our seniors, too.”
Over the final 15 minutes of the first half, the Eagles outscored the Spartans, 26-3, to take a 30-7 lead at the break. Geneva took twice as many shots (26-13) and connected on four times what Conneaut had (12-3).
The Spartans had turned the ball over 14 times to the Eagles’ 6.
“It’s hard for us to simulate a team like Geneva in practice every day,” Pasanen, who was missing regular Emily Lower, out with an injured left knee, said. “The bottom line is they’re just more skilled than we are.
“I told the girls, if they want to play at that level, they have to make more of a commitment year-round. We’ll fight and battle, but from a skill standpoint, we’re just not at their level.”
Barbo backed Pasanen on that sentiment.
“I think Conneaut is just young and inexperienced,” she said. “They have the makings of a good team going to the future. If they work together, the core there is pretty good.”
At the intermission, the Eagles were 12 of 26 (46.2 percent) from the field.
“I suppose (making nearly as many shots as they took would lead to a good night),” Barbo said. “I didn’t feel like it was a good shooting night for us.”
Geneva did not give up more than five points in any one period and outscored the Spartans, 26-9, over the final 16 minutes.
“Give Conneaut credit,” Barbo said. “I felt at the start, they came out and did a great job going to the hoop. We were fouling. We didn’t give up a lot of points, but I wasn’t happy with the way we were playing defense. We don’t want the ball in the middle, we were allowing the ball to the middle.
“We didn’t play disciplined. I feel like it was ridiculous to say, but I told the girls (at the half) we had given up only seven points but we were not playing good defense. We weren’t playing good team defense.”
Lindsey Mayle compiled a relatively quiet 32 points to lead all scorers.
“I don’t very often look at the scoreboard except to see what the opposing team has,” Barbo said. “It was relatively shocking to me (to see she had that many points) because they were somewhat quiet. She got steals and layups. She’s also quick to distribute the ball, too.
“She isn’t scoring on every possession.”
Annaliesa Fistek added 7 points for the Eagles and Ball had 6.
Jessica Thompson led Conneaut with 6 points while Bennett and Lexi Zappitelli each had 4.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.