By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The Grand Valley Mustangs sprinted to a thrilling finish in a 54-47 victory over Conneaut on Thursday in the Conneaut Holiday Classic on Thursday at Garcia Gymnasium.
Grand Valley outscored the Spartans, 10-1, over the final 5:22 of the contest to earn the win.
“The girls did what they needed to do down the stretch,” Grand Valley coach Kim Triskett said. “We made our free throws at the end and played good defense. Conneaut is a good team, in no way the same team they were when we played them before, and they gave us a battle all the way.
“We talk all the time and stress and stress defense, especially in the fourth quarter, and our girls really did a nice job.”
Down, 46-44, to the Spartans after the third of three Lexi Zapitelli 3-pointers, with 5:22 to play, Kelly Preske put home a missed shot to tie the count at 46-46. After a Spartan timeout with 4:23 to play, Jess Vormelker untied the score with a bucket after taking a pass from Abby Paskey.
Combining five turnovers with no baskets equaled no points again for the Spartans until Brooke Bennett hit the front end of a one-and-one with 21.3 seconds left to play.
Extending the score to its final tally for GV (7-2, 1-2 in Northeastern Athletic Conference) was a 6 of 10 effort from the foul line, and the game was decided.
“Conneaut really has done a nice job since early in the season,” Triskett said. “They played good position defense. They also showed a bit more confidence playing in their own gym tonight. I could see when they were warming up that they were ready to play and I told the girls that.”
Chris Futty led the scoring for a balanced Mustang offense with 17 points, Vormelker added 15 despite being hounded all night by Lydia Coccitto and Bennett, and Preske added nine, all in the second half.
“After our last game, we had a couple tough practices,” Conneaut coach Tony Pasanen said. “The girls really responded great. I am just so excited and proud of how we played tonight.
“We wanted to take Vormelker out of the game as much as we could, and Brooke and Lydia really made her work for every thing she got. She’s just a great player that you can’t stop all the way, but we did a great job. Grand Valley is a great team this year, though, and they have a lot of weapons to use.”
After losing by 40 points at Pymatuning Valley, it looked like the Spartans (3-6) were on the ropes, but their effort in this game showed more fire and life than they had all season.
“We worked up and down the court the whole way,” Pasanen said. “I think we did a fantastic job for the full 32 minutes and that is what we missed earlier in the season. Shae (Brink) did a great job and it was a total team effort for us. I’m so proud of how the girls played tonight.”
Zappitelli led the way for Conneaut with 19 points and Bennett and Brink each added seven.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.