By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
PAINESVILLE TOWNSHIP —
It wasn’t just one thing that turned Wednesday’s non-conference contest in favor of the Perry girls. But once the game did turn, it was all Pirates from then on.
After trailing for the majority of the first half, Perry dominated the final 18 minutes to beat host Riverside, 55-36.
The Beavers (2-10, 1-8) held a 21-17 advantage two minutes before the break. But over the next 13 minutes, the Pirates, who forced 40 turnovers overall — 25 via steals — dominated by a 34-8 count.
Perry (7-5, 4-2 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Chagrin Division) scored the final 7 points of the first half, then extended that run to 11 points for a 28-21 advantage. Riverside answered with 3, but then the Pirates tacked on 10 more to make it 38-24.
Moments later, Perry ran off the first 11 points of the final quarter to push to 51-29.
The game marked the return to Riverside of Perry coach Brindi Kandel, who guided the Beavers (2-10, 1-8 in the Premier Athletic Conference) the prior 3 years before this season. Kandel described the factors that helped turn things in the Pirates’ favor.
“I thought we did a lot better job getting to the basket and finishing,” she said. “I thought we did a better job defensively in the first half. They were beating us long in the first half against the press, so we wanted to drop back. I thought we did a much better job in the halfcourt defensively.”
Kandel mentioned being in position and boxing out as keys.
“And then I think we attacked the offensive boards a little better,” she said.
Riverside coach Darren Jones, whose team forced 27 turnovers itself, commented about how the momentum snowballed once it turned.
“Turnovers changed the tempo of the game,” he said. “There was a momentum swing. When we were getting turnovers, we wouldn’t finish. When they got turnovers, they would finish.”
One thing that hurt Riverside, but was a partial result of Perry’s aggressiveness, was the fact 2 starters encountered foul problems. Shannon Garvey picked up her fourth foul 1:30 before halftime, and had to sit for most of the rest of the way. Post Ashley Plassard also was whistled for her fourth, just more than 3 minutes into the second half.
Plassard returned briefly in the fourth period, but fouled out with 6:10 to go.
“That was huge,” Jones said. “Two of my starters had 4 fouls. I had to put in 2 freshmen with no varsity experience. They just weren’t ready for the varsity experience, but it was an opportunity for them to do what they had to do, so we just played through it.
“One of my starters is my 6-2 post. When we’re already as small and little as we are now, then you take my only post player — Mmm. That just changed the whole tempo of the game.”
Brittany Levkulich (10 of her 14 points in the second half,4 thefts), Reannan Blackmore (10 points), Gabby Sutyak (7 of her 8 points in the second half, 6 steals), Gabby West (6 rebounds, 4 blocked shots) and Celeste Farrell (6 steals, 3 blocks) were among the standouts for Perry.
“I thought we had a very balanced scoring effort, and I think that was key,” Kandel said. “We had a lot of kids step up; we weren’t just relying on one player to score. I think when you do that, it makes you tougher to guard defensively.”
Erin Fahl had 15 points and 7 boards, Jessica Kovalchuk 10 rebounds, Brianna Prugel 4 assists and Kirsten Ponsart 7 caroms and 2 blocks for the Beavers.
The Pirates held Riverside to 11-of-39 shooting (28.2 percent). They hit 18-of-25 free throws as compared to 12-of-22 for Riverside.
“We wanted to create a really up-tempo game and try to pressure them into some turnovers,” Kandel said. “I thought we did a good job of that at times, and then other times (we had) a breakdown and then they’d go long. But I was really proud of our defensive effort overall.”
When asked if it was strange to return to Riverside as a visiting coach, Kandel said yes.
“You put everything you have into something for 3 years,” she said. “Coming back, it’s a little bit different than a typical game, but we prepared for it the same way we would any game in practice, and I thought the girls did a good job coming out, and even with a little bit of extra emotion, they focused in the second half and really channeled it.”
“Actually, it was fun,” Jones said. “I think (my players) had a lot to prove. They wanted to prove that they are better players (and) they have learned a lot. Playing against your former coach is exciting, because you know you want to beat them. They were pretty excited; the energy was there. But it was fun for the coaching staff and the players.”
Ali Tobias, Kandel’s assistant with Riverside, moved to the Perry program with Kandel. Jones related that while he was at Lake Erie College, he had tried to recruit Tobias when she was a star at Riverside.
“It was good to see her after about 4 or 5 years,” he said.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.