By ROB DiPOFI
For the Star Beacon
Basketball coaches typically remind their players to execute their individual responsibilities within the contest and that if done, their “team” stands to benefit.
Players are also told their “team” comes first and personal accolades and recognition for individuals are nice, but not more important than the win/loss column.
It would stand to reason that heading into Tuesday’s night boys’ basketball game between Conneaut and Geneva, both teams were very much aware of each other’s respective record and perfectly aware that whoever played better as a team would probably prevail, and in the end, it was the Spartans (1-6) who got the better comprehensive group effort to overcome the scrappy Eagles (0-10, 0-6 PAC) 54-44 at Geneva.
Conneaut coach Tim Tallbacka was quick to point out that the “team” mantra was something his group was adhering to and cited an example of what he and his staff are looking for.
“I am proud of this group of young men,” he said. “A senior captain for us, Bud Ritari, told me he was willing to come off the bench and do whatever it takes for this team to win. His attitude is contagious and I think reflects this group of boys and I feel it was a big reason why we won this game tonight.”
Tallbacka had to be pleased with a group effort as he saw all nine of his players score at least three points (Christian Williams, 16 points, Michael Mirando 10 points) and saw a great balance in the categories of rebounding, assists, and steals.
In the first quarter of play, the Eagles and Spartans traded hoops with Conneaut jumping out to five-point lead, including its last one on a huge three with under a minute left in the stanza by Dylan Campbell (3 points) to give Conneaut a 13-8 lead heading into the second.
The visitors continued to build on that lead and even pushed out to a double-digit lead at 21-10, after holding Geneva scoreless for about four minutes.
However, Geneva stayed within striking distance, coming back to score the last four points of the quarter and cutting the deficit to seven at 21-14 as the teams headed into the locker room.
Tallbacka felt his team was in good shape to pull the game out but was a bit uneasy about some of the offensive possessions.
“We missed some easy baskets and had some difficulty in finishing, especially from 8-10 feet range, that has been our Achilles for past few games,” he said.
The third quarter saw the pace of play pick up as Conneaut chose to play fullcourt press then incorporated a little bit of half-court trapping to keep the Eagles from getting comfortable in their deliberate offensive sets.
The result saw some up and down action for a portion of the quarter with the teams trading buckets on a number of occasions. Williams buried two of his four 3-pointers early in the third and it looked like Conneaut might run away with the contest, leading 27-16 with 5:00 to go.
“He really gutted it out as he was not feeling well,” Tallbacka said of Williams. “(He) gave a good effort for us.”
Despite Williams’ two huge buckets, Conneaut couldn’t shake Geneva as the host team made a run of its own and sliced the visitors’ lead to 29-24 just inside of three minutes.
Following a tipped pass out of bounds, Tallbacka got another big contribution, inserting sophomore Jacob Spees (16 points in the JV contest).
“He has been playing well, getting some time in both games and is going to be a nice player,” Tallbacka said of Spees.
Spees spotted up off the subsequent baseline out of bounds play and gave the Spartans eight points and arguably provided one of the bigger buckets in the game for his squad.
Nevertheless, the Spartans couldn’t seem to shake the scrappy Geneva squad and at the end of the third quarter, as Conneaut led 39-32, there was a feeling that the game could become even tighter, and for a bit of time in the fourth, it looked like it just might happen.
Geneva shut out the Spartans on their first few offensive possessions of the final quarter and at 6:00 mark, and it was down to a four-point Spartan lead at 39-35.
Following a free throw that extended the lead back to five, Geneva failed to convert on its next three possessions and could not chip away at the deficit, including committing two turnovers in that time.
The last of those possessions set the stage for Conneaut’s Amen Gerics. Gerics had his pass deflected by an Eagle defender, traveling high into the air and going into the Conneaut hoop making it 42-35.
Geneva would get no closer.
“We need to have patience on offense and run it through things, not settle on the first open shot or try to force something that is not a high quality shot we are looking for,” Geneva coach Scott Torok said. “Our effort was clearly there, but the execution still needs work.”
On the other side of the gym, Tallbacka thought things went the way he was hoping. “Our man to man defense in the half court has been solid,” he said. “Geneva struggled to score against it though, they got some easy opportunities in transition and on some baseline out of bounds plays, which I give them credit for, we sure need to work on defending those two areas a bit better moving forward.”
Torok was disappointed in his team’s loss but saw some things he feels might bode well for his squad as it moves into the second portion of PAC play on Friday against Riverside. In particular, he was happy with the play of senior guard, Vern Thompson.
“Vern played well,” he said. “We need him to come to play like that every night like that for us. I was pleased the team showed pride as I feel that it was important to do so. We need to keep teams in the low 50s to be in the ball game and I told the boys at half time, if we could keep them to 42 (21 in first half by Conneaut), we stood a good chance to win, but we didn’t do it in the end.”
DiPofi is a freelance writer from Geneva.