The Pymatuning Valley Lakers played perhaps their best game of the season, and it resulted in a tough 66-57 victory over the Edgewood Warriors.
“We usually play an up tempo game,” Laker coach Ryan Shontz said. “Tonight we were able to cut our turnovers way down by playing what I think is just a great pace for us. At times we’ve played faster than our abilities, and that will always lead to a lot of turnovers.”
That explains how PV (3-3, 1-1 in Northeastern Athletic Conference) was able to set up and run plays in taking an early lead that they were able to maintain much of the night. Another key was working good matchups, and when Tim Baker took a feed from Quintin Ratliff to open the scoring for the game, it looked like PV would challenge the taller Warriors, with Matt Fitchet in the middle, head to head.
But that didn’t come about, as Shontz had other ideas he felt more comfortable with.
“I was a little nervous before the game about Fitchet inside,” he said. “He’s a really dominant guy in the middle, so we wanted to get him away from the basket if we could.”
That concept led to Shontz having Travis Kiser, about seven inches shorter than Fitchet, guard the Warrior senior. The extra quickness Kiser possessed was a key factor in denying the ball much of the night where Fitchet could get off a good shot, and double teams helped as well.
Add in a sour night shooting for Edgewood (5-2), and a surprising edge on the glass for PV helped aid in the win.
PV won the battle of the boards, 39-30, and a pair on the offensive glass from Kiser, among his seven for the game, keyed the end to Edgewood attempts to cut into the Laker lead.
The biggest came at the 3:57 mark of the third period with PV clinging to a slim 35-30 lead.
Ratliff made a twisting reverse layup at the 3:59 mark and drew the fourth foul on Connor McLaughlin of Edgewood. The free throw rolled off the right side of the rim, but Kiser snared the ball and turned and put it back in.
Chase Thurber answered a Matt DiDonato basket to open the lead back to six points, at 39-33.
After Eli Kalil hit his second straight 3-pointer to cut the Laker edge to four, at 51-47, with 2:19 to play, PV hit 15 of 25 free throws over that last part of the game to extend their lead to the end.
“I know we shot the ball badly tonight,” Edgewood coach John Bowler said. “We were not very good putting the ball into the basket tonight. The shots we normally make, tonight we weren’t. We didn’t get into any sort of flow late in the game, either. We usually expect to get at least 20 free throws a game, and what did we have tonight, 10? When the other team hits 17 of 31 and we only get 10, that’s a big disparity to overcome. We just got away from our game too far.
“PV played with emotion and we were flat in too many stretches.”
The play on the boards of the smaller Laker players, Kiser and guard Aaron Cross, also played a prominent role for PV.
“No doubt about it, Kiser getting that rebound off the missed free throw and getting McLaughlin’s fourth foul was one of the biggest rebounds I’ve ever seen,” Shontz said.
With Ratliff having another strong game (23 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists), Cross came into play by grabbing 5 rebounds in the second half, and 3 of those in the last 2 minutes of the game.
Thurber also came up big with 17 points, Kiser added 13 to go with his 7 boards, 2 steals, and 3 assists, and it proved to be more than enough to offset a solid 23-point night for Kalil and another 12 for DiDonato.
McLaughlin added 10 and his 4 assists in the fourth period allowed the Warriors to keep within striking distance, but PV controlled things until the parade to the line in the last two minutes stretched things too far for a Warrior comeback.
“Aaron Cross is probably the best rebounding guard I’ve seen in a long, long time,” he added. “He’s just totally tenacious, unlike anybody I have ever coached. He’s different from his brother, Tim, and his work ethic is what is doing it for us.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.