By TIM CLEVELAND
For the Star Beacon
When Pymatuning Valley fell behind by 11 points late in the third quarter Thursday night against Maplewood, it looked for sure as if the Lakers would suffer their first defeat of the season.
Pymatuning Valley’s senior guard Geena Gabriel wouldn’t allow that to happen. She led a 16-2 comeback the rest of the game, scoring 10 points during the stretch — including four free throws late in the game — in a 38-35 victory at Oscar W. Grant Gymnasium.
Gabriel led all players with 17 points.
“I knew that since I’m a captain, I knew I had to take the lead and be the team leader and try to score,” she said. “Being 11 down, I was worried but I knew that our team had enough strength. Maplewood’s a really good team and they played well defensively, but we were able to get in, make some hoops and come back.”
Pymatuning Valley coach Jeff Compan said Gabriel played up to her usual clutch standards.
“She’s started every game of her career,” he said. “I don’t think the situation ever gets too big for her. She’s a point guard first, and we tried to turn her into a little bit of a scorer tonight. She hit the big free throws; that’s what you want out of a senior.”
Compan added that Thursday’s game was the usual tight battle between the teams.
“In the last few years, this has just been battles every time we’ve played,” he said. “It usually comes down to the last couple possessions. We talked about playing a regional final team from last year, a team that knocked us off and won the league. For us to get back to the top, we knew we had to come here and win. A win ugly is better than winning pretty sometimes.”
Maplewood coach Mark Yoder said the drought was first caused by a lack of shots, then by a lack of made shots.
“We weren’t getting any shots up for a long period of time,” he said. “We weren’t moving the ball real good. Later in the fourth quarter, we started missing our open looks.”
After Brooke Dawson scored to give Maplewood (3-1, 0-1 Northeastern Athletic Conference) a 33-22 lead with 1:14 left in the third quarter, Gabriel got to work in getting her team back in the game.
She put in a basket to end the third, then scored twice more early in the fourth that brought Pymatuning Valley (4-0, 1-0) to within 33-32 with 5:01 to play.
Maplewood continued its implosion later in the quarter. Dawson fouled Kelsea Brown, who scored but missed the free throw. Nevertheless, the Lakers led 34-33 with 1:58 left, their first advantage since it was 16-14.
Gabriel made four free throws with 1:16 and 16.1 seconds left that gave her team the final margin of victory.
Megan Stech had 10 points, four rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three steals for the Lakers. Dawson paced Maplewood with 15 points while Ryley Urchek had seven points and nine rebounds.
Trailing by three points, Maplewood had one last chance to tie, but Rebecca Dillon secured a steal, the Rockets’ 26th and final turnover.
“That’s been a problem we’ve been having the last couple years,” Yoder said of the miscues. “We know just about all the other parts of our game are pretty good. Taking care of the basketball is just that one thing we can’t seem to fix.”
In the late third and the entire fourth quarter, Maplewood was befuddled by Pymatuning Valley’s 2-3 zone. From 1:14 left in the third until Dawson scored with 24.5 seconds left in the fourth, the Rockets were held scoreless, a span of 8:49.
“We were really worried about the inside, and we thought we had enough size on the wings to disrupt their offense,” Compan said. “You try to stop one person or the other with them. You know you can’t really stop everybody. I thought we did a good job today frustrating them a little bit on their offensive end.
“We were down 11 with 10 minutes to go in that game. They did a great job.”
Gabriel said defense is the backbone of the Lakers’ success.
“That’s all we pretty much do is work on defense,” she said. “That’s our main thing at practice is defense, defense, defense. That’s pretty much what we work on.”
Cleveland is a freelance writer from Warren.