ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
When a team plays a solid game, executes its game plan well, a win is a distinct possibility. However, when the opponent is simply blessed with better athletes, such as most foes of the Pymatuning Valley Lakers find out, outcomes still come up short much of the time.
Such was the case at PV on Thursday evening as the Lakers claimed a tie for the championship of the Northeastern Athletic Conference with a total smashing of the Badger Braves, 59-24. The contest was a game postponed earlier in the season due to inclement weather, but the Lakers simply had the better athletes, and this game showed it.
“I really have to give our kids credit,” PV coach Ryan Fitch said. “We were able to execute what we wanted to do very well tonight. We did a nice job on help-side defense, rotated well, had good ball movement, and boxed out well, too.”
Did they ever!
Ball control was the best hope the Braves had to win this game, but after a tight first period that saw PV’s Quintin Ratliff steal the ball three times to play a major part in Badger getting off only six shots, leading to a 17-8 Laker lead, things quickly unraveled for the Braves as PV did everything well. The culmination of the dominance came in the third period, when the Lakers pitched a 20-0 shutout on the strength of 14 of Ratliff’s game-high 18 points.
The athleticism of the Lakers showed, but there was no quitting in the Braves.
“Our emphasis is for the guys to be seeing the rim and becoming a scorer,” Badger coach Chris Mott said. “If nothing else, they need to be a threat to score. The difference in this game was in the defensive end of the floor. That’s where PV won the game. They are quick, they attacked the rim, moved the ball well and got good looks at the rim.”
Playing a more deliberate style imposed by the Braves, the Lakers found openings for good shots, and made the most of them. PV (15-4, 10-2 in NAC) hit on 22 of 38 shots for 57.6 percent for the game. The Braves were not terrible, shooting 32.1 percent, but the quality of their shots was not sharp, a testament to the PV defense.
Badger hit only nine of 28 shots, and the low output on attempts was a direct result of PV boxing out, an important fact Fitch pointed out.
“We contested their jump shots well tonight, too, and that put is in good rebounding position,” he said.
In about as total a domination as this area has seen in a long time, the Lakers won the battle of the backboards, 24-6.
That is not a misprint. And, among those six caroms for the Braves, a big zero occurred in the offensive-rebound category.
Ratliff’s big third period paced the attack for PV. Much of its early offense came from Austin and Grant Nowakowski, with a huge amount of assistance from Tim Cross.
Austin (13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) took a feed from Cross in the left corner and nailed the first of his three 3-pointers on the night, then hit a pair of free throws for a 5-0 Laker lead in the first three minutes of the game.
He later hit another trey in the first period, and Grant nailed a trey and a short jumper in the quarter to help gain that 17-8 lead.
The rest of the night proved to be a battle for the Braves to gain enough confidence to attack the basket, something PV didn’t allow.
Ratliff led the way with his 18 points, Cross added 13, Austin had his 11, and Grant tallied all seven of his in the first half.
The only scoring threat the Braves could show was Matt Kraml, who tallied six in the first period, all 10 in the first half, but with constant shadows in the home white following him in the second half, even getting the ball was nearly impossible.
Brandon Bates, who was saddled with two quick fouls in the early part of the game, came back to tally six points in the fourth quarter to end up with eight on the night. By that time, PV had opened a 46-12 lead after three quarters and sealed the decision.
The Lakers can seal another NAC title with a win tonight at Lordstown.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.