By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
In the Maplewood Rockets’ and Grand Valley Mustangs’ matchup at Grand Valley on Thursday night, the teams went back and forth.
But perennial Northeastern Athletic Conference power Maplewood made the most of a pair of scoring runs and solid free-throw shooting to claim a tough 57-53 NAC win over the Mustangs.
The first spurt that had significant meaning came midway through the second period. After GV’s Abby Paskey (9-6, 3-6 in NAC) nailed a pair of free throws to give her team a 20-17 lead, Riley Urchek of Maplewood scored a basket and the free throw, as well, after being fouled to tie the game at 20-20 with 4:55 left in the first half. Within the next 1:42, Victoria Karlovic scored, Miranda Sloan converted a conventional 3-point play, Brooke Dawson did as well, and GV suddenly found itself down 28-20.
“This was just one of those nights when things don’t go as planned,” Grand Valley coach Kim Triskett said. “We played pretty well tonight, but when we wanted the ball to go into the hole, it didn’t at key times. The kids played hard all the way. When we got down 28-20, we fought back, and then late in the game, when we got down 51-41, we fought back again.”
The Mustangs chipped away at the Rocket lead until cutting it to a point, 39-38. That happened with 2:30 left in the third quarter after a Jess Vormelker 3-pointer. After Chris Futty scored to cut the lead again, this time at 43-30, an 8-1 run covering the last couple minutes of the third period and first minute of the fourth pushed the lead back to 51-41, and the Mustangs, perhaps trying too hard to get it back in a hurry, ran into a string of turnovers that slowed them down enough.
The free throw shooting came into play early. Over the first 3 periods, Maplewood (12-2, 7-2 in NAC) converted 12 of 14 free shots to cut into any type of momentum the Mustangs could gather as a result of their great defensive efforts on the night.
That was especially evident in guarding Rocket post standout Brooke Dawson, who was limited to just 4 points over the first 2 querters and first 6 minutes of the third. She finally got into a rhythm as Riley Urchek and Miranda Sloan got their games going, and the Mustangs could not muster any consistency in putting the ball into the basket.
“Credit Grand Valley for making some big plays when they had to in getting back into the game,” Rocket coach Mark Yoder said. “We got a few things to work for us, but they are just a fundamentally sound team that plays hard all the way. They took advantage of a few defensive breakdowns we had, but we did much better in the second half of moving the ball and passing it well, too. We didn’t get hardly any offensive rebounding in the first half, but did better in the second half. We talked about that at halftime, and it was really a 3-4 minute stretch which got things settled in for us.”
Urchek and Dawson each scored 8 points in the second half to spark an opportune offense for Maplewood. Urchek ended up with 13 markers, and Dawson and Sloan each added 12.
Jess Vormelker tallied some big hoops in the second half to lead GV wtih 19 points, but it came on an off night for her. She hit only 6 of 19 shots, including a pair of treys, and Chris Futty added 10 more points to help out.
GV could have cut into the lead more in the fourth period as Maplewood hit just 4 of 12 free throws as the Mustangs became more aggressive and fouled more, but their 4-9 efforts from the floor were hindered by 6 of their 25 turnovers.
They didn’t overcome that, but it wasn’t because of the effort.
“We didn’t rebound as well in the second half,” Triskett said. “If you turn the ball over and don’t rebound, you don’t get as many scoring opportunities. That hurt us tonight, too.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.