By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
The air traffic controller was not too fond of fly bys in the movie “Top Gun.” Turns out Pymatuning Valley coach Jeff Compan doesn’t like them a whole lot either when it comes to playing defense on the basketball court.
The Lakers, which had developed a habit of running past offensive players with the ball early in the season, changed their traffic patterns a bit in beating Conneaut, 54-24, on Saturday at Garcia Gymnasium.
“We want a hand in the shooter’s face,” Compan said. “When we have a hand in their face on a shot, we’re able to box out. We were doing a lot of fly bys early in the season.
“We were waving as we were flying right by someone taking a shot and that was leading to a 5-on-4 or we were trying to get there and flying right by the ball handler leading to a 5-on-4. I told the girls if they hit a shot with your hand in their face, good for them, it was a good shot. We don’t want to give up any freebies.”
Those were issues Compan and assistant Mel Nowakowski had addressed in practice leading up to the battle with the Spartans (4-7).
The Lakers (8-2, 4-2 in Northeastern Athletic Conference) contested shots pretty successfully against Conneaut in blocking seven attempts and holding the Spartans to a less-than-stellar 15.2 shooting percentage (7 of 46).
“We really focused the last couple of days on contesting shots and rebounding,” Compan said. “One-shot possessions are what we want. Early in the season, we weren’t good at contesting shots. We’ve lost twice and they were close. Looking back at those films, we probably gave up 10 freebies.
“When you’re losing by two and giving up 10 freebies, that’s an issue. We changed it up. We want to contest and contain. We apply enough pressure that if we contest and contain, we’ll be successful.”
Pymatuning Valley had dispatched the Spartans, 56-16, not long ago. In doing so, the Lakers had forced a good number of turnovers. The Spartans rectified that a bit in getting 46 attempts from the field.
“I’m definitely much happier with the way we played (against PV this time),” Conneaut coach Tony Pasanen said. “We turned it over less and had more shot attempts. The shots just didn’t fall. We were much better handling the pressure. We’ve got to build off that.
“Give the girls credit. It’s something they’ve worked hard on.”
The Lakers still managed to steal the ball 16 times and force 25 turnovers.
“PV’s a great team,” Pasanen said. “There’s not a whole lot more to say. I told the girls they’re just better than we are.
“We made some adjustments and played better. The way to get better is to play the best competition you can. (PV) definitely makes us better.”
Handling full-court relentless pressure is just one aspect of beating the Lakers’ defense, though.
“Conneaut did a good job breaking the press,” Compan said. “They had a nice gameplan. I tell our girls that a team has to work hard to beat the press, but then they still have to beat the half-court trap. Hopefully we’ll do good at on one of those two things.
“I was happy with the defensive effort.”
With the Spartans not being able to knock down many shots, rebounding became a key. The Lakers held a 45-29 edge in that regard, mainly because Megan Stech grabbed 15 boards, though she had battle the very physical presence of Conneaut’s Angie Zappitelli and Tori Simek.
“I used to go up against my older sister (Constance) and she pushed me around so I’m used to it,” Stech said.
“(Rebounding) was pretty important. (Conneaut) can mainly make their short shots. When they missed, that gave us a chance to get it and run the court for a fast break.”
Geena Gabriel led the Lakers with 13 points, Stech had 12, Kelsea Brownn 11 and Heather Brant added eight.
Lexi Zappitelli paced Conneaut with eight points and Simek added seven.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.