By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
Seniors Natalie Thomas and Becky Depp have one very important trait in common with Geneva girls basketball coach Nancy Barbo — an intense dislike for losing. And together, that triumvirate has lost very little over the last four years.
Saturday, the Eagles laid claim to their second-straight and third Premier Athletic Conference championship in the last four years with a 60-17 victory over Lakeside on Saturday at Lakeside Gymnasium.
“It’s a tribute, I guess, to the seniors,” Barbo said. “I think it’s a good testament to their competitiveness, their desire and creating a good team atmosphere.
“They just have a spirit about them. They just hate losing... almost as much as I do, therefore, we’re a good combination.”
Depp and Thomas were freshmen for the first of the three titles and were on the bench as the Eagles (18-1, 11-1) made a run to the regional tournament.
“I don’t think anyone likes to lose,” Thomas said. “In seventh and eighth grade, we didn’t lose one game. Our mindset has always been to play our hardest and not lose.”
“(Winning the PAC title) means a lot,” Depp said. “That’s been one of goals the last four years. Natalie and I were the two freshmen on the team that went to regionals. We just wanted to keep it going.”
Geneva got out to a 14-2 lead through eight minutes, and in doing so forced the Dragons (1-20, 0-12) to turn the ball over on eight of their first 14 possessions.
“Geneva presses well,” Lakeside coach Dave Malone said. “We didn’t do a good job executing against the press. However, as far as the first half goes, we held a team that’s 18-1 to 23 points. That’s great, but, again, we’ve got to score. We’ve got to put the ball in the hole.
“I’m grateful for the seniors’ contributions to the program and the school. Their parents should be very, very proud. They’re all great girls. I wish I could’ve had them for four years.”
On five the six possessions Lakeside didn’t turn the ball over, it took one shot and headed back to the other end of the court following a Geneva rebound.
“Coach always tells us that when we’re not knocking down shots, we have to pick it up on defense,” Depp said. “We did and we pressured the ball more and got some turnovers.”
“When we’re not making shots, we need to make our defense become our offense,” Thomas said. “We need to get steals and make layups.”
Despite the fact the Eagles struggled to make baskets (6 of 26 from the field, 23.1 percent), six different players scored in the quarter.
“We were playing a little uninspired,” Barbo said. “That’s not how we play. Usually, we’re intense and we get after it. We try and get off to a little better of a start. It worked out in the end. It took a little while to get going, I guess.”
Depp caught fire in the third quarter, connecting on four 3-pointers in the period.
“We play a lot more energetic when we knock down shots,” Barbo said. “That needs to change. Defense needs to be the constant because offense may come and go.
“(Depp getting hot and the lead being extended) is a perfect example. It’s frustrating to know the shots aren’t dropping. It affects everything we do. (Depp) knocking down those shots energized us and gave us momentum and enthusiasm.”
Behind Depp’s shooting, the Eagles extended a 23-8 halftime lead to 42-15 through three quarters.
“Coach told us we had to pick it up at halftime,” Depp said. “I got hot and my teammates kept giving me the ball when I was open. They kept going in so I kept shooting them.”
“That killed us,” Malone said. “The four 3-pointers was crushing. Our main focus was Lindsey (Mayle) because she lit us up for 21 or 22 the last time we played them. We knew where she was. We lost Becky in the third and she caught fire.”
Geneva turned the ball over just 15 times, compared to the 31 times for the Dragons.
“Fifteen turnovers? I’ll take it,” Barbo said. “Obviously, cutting down on the turnovers gives the other team less opportunities. That will be important against Riverside, Cleveland Heights and at the start of the tournament.”
Depp had five triples in the game and accounted for 21 points, six assists and eight steals to lead the Eagles. Lindsey Mayle had 10 points and four assists, Alyssa Scott scored six points and had 11 rebounds and Thomas added six points and six boards.
Shelby Smith was the leader for the Dragons with six points and Kristin Keasling added four.