By Lisa Byers
Challen Litwiler put herself in a pretty good position Wednesday night to join teammate Kristen Baker on Conneaut Area Senior High’s 1,000-point scorers banner in the Lady Eagles’ showdown with Cochranton on Saturday.
But as special as that moment would be, Conneaut head coach Bill Stevenson was confident Litwiler’s focus against Cochranton would have very little to do with self gain and more on how she could best lead her teammates to a huge victory.
The two wound up working hand in hand.
Litwiler was a force for the Lady Eagles yesterday afternoon. The senior dominated the paint, scoring a game-best 22 points, including the 1,000th of her career, to lead Conneaut to a 47-41 win.
The win was No. 11 in a row for the Lady Eagles, who improved to 12-1 overall and 6-0 in Region 3. Cochranton fell to 8-3 overall and 4-1 in the region.
The Lady Cardinals still maintain the lead in the Region 3 title race. Conneaut, as the lone Class AAA team in the region is not eligible to win the crown. Cochranton has a half-game lead over Cambridge Springs.
“There is no doubt they are a very good team,” Stevenson said of the Cardinals. “We had to win the battle of the boards. We lost that early and they hurt us there, but then Lindsey (Shidemantle) and Challen stepped up with monster rebounds. Just a tremendous effort.
“Then we hit some shots down the line and made our foul shots and that’s what wins a tight game.”
A tight game it was.
Neither team was able to really take control.
Cochranton did jump out to a 10-2 lead, but Kimmy Litwin made a layup and Litwiler made good on 4 of 4 attempts from the free throw line to cut the Cardinals’ lead to just two (10-8). Cochranton finished the quarter up 14-12.
Conneaut tied it up twice in the second quarter, which the Lady Eagles ended strong. Conneaut scored the final six points of the first half, four of which came off turnovers. Litwiler scored on a fastbreak and Shidemantle scored off a pass from Litwiler in the final 26 seconds to give Conneaut a 25-22 lead at the break.
Cochranton did eventually retake the lead. Kendell Dickson scored on a floater to put the Cardinals up 30-29. Madi Bernarding extended the lead to three (32-29) with a jumper with 2:06 to play in the third quarter. Then came a couple big baskets by Litwiler.
Litwiler pulled the Eagles to within two with a free throw and tied it up with 49 seconds to play in the period with a layup, which gave the standout athlete 1,000 points for her career.
Play stopped momentarily while fans congratulated Litwiler and she was presented with a commemorative ball by Stevenson, but then it was back to business. Cochranton closed the quarter with a 34-32 lead.
Litwiler opened the fourth quarter with six straight points for the Eagles. She tied it up with a pair of free throws and gave the Eagles a 38-34 lead with back to back layups. Cochranton never led again.
“We didn’t bring our best mental game,” Cochranton coach Gary Egli said. “That’s where it was at. Whether it was the turnaround (Cochranton played Seneca on Friday) or not I don’t know. It just happened.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been in a tight game so maybe that adds to it. But we knew this was going to be a tight game either way.”
It was a couple things that helped the Eagles achieve the victory.
First was the aforementioned Litwiler. The senior not only came up big scoring 12 points from the free throw line, she forced some key players for Cochranton into early foul trouble. Kassidy Dickson and Morgan Egli both got in foul trouble in the first half. Kendell Dickson fouled out of the game with 26 seconds left to play.
“She’s a pretty formidable low post player,” Stevenson said. “She has good height and size and she has real good moves and quick feet. She was slicing and dicing and making good shots and really stretching their defense.”
Shidemantle dominated the glass. She had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Then there were the Eagles’ guards: Libby Clement, Kristen Baker, Litwin and Brooke Phelps. Phelps was catlike on defense and came up with a couple big stops late in the game.
“She’s having a huge year,” Stevenson said of Phelps. “She plays hard. She’s not a rookie anymore. She does a lot of good things with or without the ball and is getting better every day.”
Litwiler now has 1,006 career points. She also had 15 rebounds against the Cardinals.
“When I was in eighth grade and coach (Megan) Storck walked into the gym she said, ‘Are you playing basketball this year?’” Litwiler said. “I said, ‘Yeah. I will be a freshman.’ She said, ‘Well, do you have any goals?’ I said, ‘I’m going to get a thousand.’”
She kept her promise.
Cochranton had three players score in double figures. Bernarding led with 11 points. Kendell Dickson had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Kassidy Dickson had 10 points as well.