By Lisa Byers
There had been very little hype going into Wednesday night’s Region 3 matchup against Saegertown regarding the status of reigning Meadville Tribune Player of the Year Kristen Baker and Challen Litwiler’s quest to 1,000 career points.
But as the clock wound down on the junior varsity game and fans began to shuffle around noisemakers and signs, it was evident something pretty special was likely to take place. And Baker didn’t make fans wait too awful long to see it happen.
Baker gathered up a rebound and went coast to coast for a layup with 4:03 to play in the second quarter to become the first player in Conneaut Area High School history to score 1,000 career points. The senior finished the game with 16 points and now has 1,004.
“It’s a great feeling because you know everyone is here supporting you and behind you,” said Baker, who got a bit emotional as she accepted a commemorative basketball from head coach Bill Stevenson at half court moments after her milestone shot. “You know you’re not going to get let down and they are with you the whole way.”
Baker adds her name to a distinguished list that includes 1,000 and 2,000-point scorers from Conneaut Lake, Conneaut Valley and Linesville, the three schools that merged last year to form CASH. Among those names is Baker’s brother, Casey, who was unable to make last night’s contest.
“I’m so happy that we get to go up there together,” Kristen Baker said. “Once my brother scored a thousand, I just wanted to go right after him and as siblings be up (on the board) together.”
Baker nearly completed her task in the first quarter alone. The Eagles, who rolled to a 57-23 win over the Panthers, jumped out to a 10-1 lead in the first four-plus minutes, and Baker was responsible for all but two of those points. She finished the quarter with 11 points, one point shy of a grand.
Every shot and move Baker made from there on was watched closely. Finally, after a couple of tough shots, each met with a collective groan from the crowd, she connected.
“It was great,” Baker said. “I just started crying because I was so excited.”
“I think her head was in the right spot,” Stevenson said. “She played great offense. I think the whole team did. We weren’t forcing shots and that is one of the best offensive halves we have had and everyone contributed.
“She took what came to her and she capitalized on it, and so did some other kids.”
That is what can’t be lost on a night where a significant personal accomplishment was achieved. The Eagles had a game to play and an important one with Cochranton coming to CASH on Saturday.
Conneaut entered the game tied with the Cardinals at 4-0 in Region 3. With the win, the Eagles (11-1 overall), who are on a 10-game winning streak, took a half-game lead over the Cardinals (7-2).
“We have a big game on Saturday,” Stevenson said.
Another Eagle could join Baker on that board on Saturday. Litwiler, too, had a sensational game and had some fans sitting a little uneasy as she grew closer to 1,000 points last night with no signs bearing her name prepared or a commemorative ball at the ready for her in the gymnasium.
Litwiler capped an emotionally exhausting first quarter with a half-court shot that was nothing but net. She finished the night with a game-best 22 points and is now 16 points away from 1,000.
“It could be a very special night again,” Stevenson said. “But we need to take care of Cochranton first. Whatever happens, happens. That was our attitude coming in (last night), ‘We need to take care of Saegertown and what happens, happens.’ They all bought into it, including Kristen. I’m positive Challen will have the same attitude to win a game and if it happens, it happens.”
Litwiler also finished with 13 rebounds. Brooke Phelps added nine points for the Eagles, whose starters got quite a bit of time off as Stevenson worked in his bench often. Kimmy Litwin had seven assists and did not commit a turnover.
Jessica Tomiczek led Saegertown with six points. Mikayla Newman and Maile Chang had five points each. Saegertown fell to 8-4 overall and 2-3 in Region 3 and is now a full game back of Cambridge Springs for the top Class AA position in Region 3.