By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
Coach Ryan Fitch’s Pymatuning Valley Lakers are not a team you want to spot an early double-digit lead.
The Conneaut Spartans learned that lesson the hard way, dropping the season opener for both teams at Garcia Gymnasium, 58-42.
The Lakers used a 14-0 run in the middle of the second period to jump out to a 31-18 halftime lead they never relinquished.
In fact, after PV took a 15-13 advantage early in the second, it never trailed again.
“You go down 14 to those guys, it’s going to be tough sledding,” Tallbacka said.
The run was actually sparked by Lakers’ freshman Joey Hunt. Hunt hit a 3 in the closing seconds of the first period to tie the game at 11, then hit another and a pair of free throws in the second quarter in the middle of the run.
“Joey’s a freshman, he does very good things for us,” Fitch said. “I just told him in (the locker room), he stepped in, first two 3’s he saw, knocked them down. Stepped up, knocked down two free throws.
“For being a freshman to step into this environment for the first time in his life — outstanding job.”
While the newcomer provided a spark, it was the reliable hands of seniors Tim Cross and Austin Nowakowski that sealed the game.
Cross controlled the pace and led all scorers with 20 points in addition to seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Nowakowski kicked in 14 points, including a game-high four 3-pointers.
“That’s definitely one of our strengths,” Fitch said of his team’s 3-point shooting. “We’re going to shoot a lot of 3’s this year and when they go in we’re going to look good and when they don’t, we’re going to look bad.
“That’s our style of play and hopefully that’ll keep us successful.”
Conneaut cut that 14-point deficit down to seven in the fourth period, but the Lakers responded.
Quintin Ratliff (13 points, 9 rebounds) made a layup in transition, Cross followed with a runner then Nowakowski hit a dagger 3 that stretched the lead back to 14.
Seven points would be as close as the Spartans would get.
“Conneaut is a very well-coached basketball team,” Fitch said. “Coach Tallbacka does an outstanding job, his kids play so hard and they’re prepared. So any time we can come up here and get a lead in this place, it’s a very tough place to play, that’s big for us.”
The struggles of Tallbacka’s group, which was led in scoring by Christian Williams with 18 points, were reminiscent of its issues last season when one quarter seemed to doom the Spartans.
“Last year it was the third quarter,” he said. “I told them, I don’t want to get into that mode again of one quarter. We expect to be past that, but at this point we aren’t. Look at the shot chart. For a team that scored 42 points, we took a lot of shots (16-46 from the floor).
“I thought that overall our personal defense let us down. In our scrimmages we played pretty good, but we had a lot of guys in foul trouble. I think that’s PV is a good team, Coach Fitch does a good job.”
While Conneaut looks to regroup from the loss, it will have nine days to do so before hosting Cardinal on Dec. 11, Fitch and PV has a strong win to build off to start the season.
“This is (a big win),” he said. “Anytime we can put Division II schools on our schedule, my AD and I talked about this since I took over, beefing up our non-conference schedule to prepare us for the tournament.
“This is a great win for us. Any time we can beat Conneaut that’s an outstanding win for us.”