By Lisa Byers
A year ago, the Conneaut girls basketball team did everything necessary to win the Region 3 title, finishing the region season at a perfect 12-0.
But the Eagles, are a Class AAA team and the only one of that classification playing in Region 3. Therefore, the Eagles were not eligible to win the region championship last year and are not eligible to win it this year either.
It doesn’t seem to matter much to the Lady Eagles.
While not the true champion, Conneaut proved it, again, is one of the teams to beat in Region 3 on Wednesday night with its impressive 49-38 win over Cambridge Springs at Conneaut Area Senior High School. And it didn’t take long for the Lady Eagles to send that message.
The Eagles scored 21 points in the first quarter. Reigning Meadville Tribune Player of the Year Kristen Baker was responsible for 11 of those points, including the first eight scored by Conneaut that gave it an 8-2 lead with 5:32 to play in the first quarter.
Cambridge Springs opened the game with a basket by McKayla Zilhaver, but was held scoreless until Zilhaver scored again with 4:37 to play in the first quarter, cutting the deficit to eight (12-4). That first-quarter outburst played a huge factor in the rest of the game.
“They figured the press out,” Conneaut head coach Bill Stevenson said. “We got a lot of cheap steals in the first quarter there and then they started figuring the press out, and we were being a little too agressive with it and not letting it do its job.”
The Eagles outscored Cambridge Springs by just one the rest of the way.
“Turnovers. Turnovers,” Cambridge Springs coach Rick Grubbs said. “When we took our time against the press, we did alright. We got layups. We got it down to 10 at halftime and then came out and handed the ball over twice quickly.”
Conneaut turned those turnovers into points. The first came on a jumper by Challen Litwiler. Then Kimmy Litwin connected on a fast break layup. Both scores were tallied within in the first 30 seconds of the second half, bumping the Eagles’ lead to 14 (33-19).
Conneaut’s advantage grew to as many as 19 (49-30) in the fourth quarter. Cambridge Springs scored the final eight points of the game, though, all from Paige Wolfrom to close the gap to 11 (49-38) at the end.
“Conneaut is a good team,” Grubbs said. “They’re strong. They’re big, but they’re not huge. They are strong; all of them all strong. They play well. They play well together. They know what they’re doing. We’re still coming along.”
Among the favorites to win the Region 3 crown this season, though, the Lady Blue Devils were really hoping to steal one away from the Eagles at home.
“That is what I told them beforehand. I said, ‘This is not one people expect us to get,’” Grubbs said. “Let’s go surprise them. If we had done better against the press early, maybe. But they have two or three girls who can take the ball to the hoop nice and dish it off. They’re a good team … They’re a good team.”
Baker, who got in early foul trouble and sat much of the second and third quarters, wound up with a game-high 18 points. Litwiler added 12 points and seven rebounds. Lindsey Shidemantle finished with nine points and five boards.
Zilhaver had an outstanding night for the Blue Devils. The forward scored 12 points. Wolfrom also tallied 12 points to go along with six rebounds.