By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The Conneaut Spartans started out this season with nobody having any considerable varsity experience. It showed in the early part of this basketball adventure, but over the last few weeks, the Spartans have shown great signs of improvement. They have gained confidence in what coach Tim Tallbacka wants them to do, and it has paid off with consecutive victories after the Spartans topped Grand Valley, 64-59, Wednesday night at Garcia Gymnasium.
“A staple of Conneaut basketball, even before I got here, was getting down and getting dirty,” Tallbacka said. “The kids are buying into it and things are starting to go their way. Tonight, we were able to overcome some foul-shooting problems but hit some key ones at the end of the game.
The Mustangs got into foul trouble in the second quarter and it limited them in what they had could do. It also put the Spartans at the line for 14 attempts, but they hit just 4. That effectively allowed GV (7-12) to stay in the game.
“Execution was the big factor tonight, both offensively and defensively,” Grand Valley coach Matt Brumit said. “Conneaut simply outexecuted us most of the night. “You’ve got to take care of the ball, and we didn’t do it well in the first half. Being a young team, you need to count on those younger kids to keep things moving and sometimes that can be too much pressure.”
Even having a player like Jake Vormelker couldn’t quite get the Mustangs over the hump. He ended up with 27 points.
“Grand Valley played very well tonight,” Tallbacka said. “You know Vormelker is a dominant player, and our kids all did a great job covering him. We had several matchups to try to stop him and he still lit us up for 27 tonight.”
Gabe Kovats had 13 points and Zach Oscar was tough inside as well, with 12 for the Mustangs.
An 18-point first half from Jacob Spees sparked the Spartan efforts as he kept his team rolling in that first half. He ended up with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but his hot shooting allowed the Spartans to overcome a 22-16 GV lead midway through the second period on the strength of a 16-2 run that covered just under 3 minutes.
Alas, the Spartans (4-13) saw a 7-point halftime lead nearly disappear in the third period. Down 41-29, the Mustangs, behind 12 points in a row from Vormelker and capped by a basket by Oscar, climbed to within 46-45 with 2;24 left to play.
Then , after the Spartans had pushed the lead back out to 58-51, 5 straight points made it a 2-point game, 58-56.
Conneaut got a couple of important free throws to drop and they extended to the final score from 61-59.
Justin Myers hit 3 of 4 shots with the clock stopped in that span, and with the contest still very much in doubt, Mike Teed hit the second of 2 shots to seal the verdict.
“I thought we had our chances,” Brumit said. “Gabe Kovats had a hot first half, then picked up 3 quick fouls to start the third period and we lost his spark.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.