By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
Playing their first game since a week ago this past Monday, the Grand Valley girls basketball team, celebrating Senior Night, showed what such a long layoff can do to a team. In a rough half when not much went right against a wounded, but dangerous, Berkshire team, the Mustangs found themselves on the short end of a 19-18 halftime score.
But, two major adjustments in their game led to a 44-40 non-conference win over the Badgers as GV closed out its regular season.
“You could really tell we hadn’t played a game in over a week,” Mustang coach Kim Triskett said. “As long as we get out and do what we needed to do, I’m happy. This was pretty ugly, but we got shots to fall when we needed them, especially from the free throw line, and we talked at halftime about what Berkshire was doing in the first half to get open shots.”
The shots were not falling for either team in that first half. Grand Valley (14-8, 4-8 in Northeastern Athletic Conference) then opened the third period with an 8-0 run, saw a 26-19 led evaporate early in the fourth quarter, then regained the lead for good on a Chris Futty layup with just under seven minutes to play and stumbled to the final finish.
In the first half, the Badgers had little trouble getting entry passes into the lane to post Kayla Byler, and she put home eight of her team-high 17 points. If several of her close-range efforts not rolled around the rim and off, GV might have been in dire trouble.
Stopping those passes keyed the defense for GV in the second half.
“We went to faceguarding Byler in the second half to try to deny her the ball more and forced her away from the basket,” Triskett said. “She’s just so good, you have to limit her touches to have a chance.”
That change paid off handsomely. While ending up with 17 points, Byler added only two more baskets to her total, and after Futty hit that putback for the lead, the Mustangs saw their lead continue, although precariously. When Brooke Sell hit a 3-pointer with 20 second to play, cutting the lead to 41-40, the Mustangs finally had a bit of success from the line that eluded them for much of the game.
Abby Paskey hit a pair with 14.2 ticks left, Kelly Preske closed out her career on her home floor with another freebie with 2.3 seconds left, and the win was finally secure.
A 7 of 16 effort from the line in the fourth quarter by GV made things interesting, but those last three finally brought some closure.
“We just had way too many turnovers tonight,” Berkshire coach Dennis Lory said. “I’ll bet we had a bunch in the third period.”
The Badgers had seven of their 22 for the game in that third period, while scoring just three points.
“We did miss a lot of open shots tonight, too,” Lory said. “Kim always has her kids playing aggressive defense, and they are a good team. They made some adjustments, we didn’t read them well, but I’m proud of how we played down the stretch tonight. We just dug ourselves too much of a hole to get all the way out of.”
Berkshire now stands at 11-10 on the season as they prepare for tournament action next week against Mogadore at Barberton High School
Byler ended up with 17 points, Sell added 11, and Payton Neumore added nine before fouling out at the end.
Jess Vormelker, as she has done all season, led the GV attack with 17 points. Preske added eight, but a key factor in the improved Mustang season was the multiple contributions from several players. All eight GV players scored, the same held true in rebounding as GV took a big 40-25 edge in that area, and five had steals and assists.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.