By Pete Chiodo
The Conneaut Area girls basketball team is just nine games old. But it already owns one victory that will be talked about for a long time to come after Saturday night’s 48-46 overtime win over General McLane in the championship game of the Conneaut All-Sports Boosters Holiday Tournament on Saturday.
“That was the most intense game I’ve ever played in my basketball career,” said Eagles junior Challen Litwiler. “As a new school coming together, this definitely kicked off our season. General McLane’s always has a really strong basketball program. Hopefully tonight turned some peoples’ heads about our team.”
The win improves Conneaut’s record to 7-2. General McLane drops to 6-1 on the season.
“We made a run,” said Lady Lancers head coach Sarah Jay. “We just couldn’t win it in the end. It’s just a heartbreaking loss to play that hard and not win.”
McLane certainly had opportunities, even though its lineup was decimated by fouls. Both Louisa Lytle and Katie Clark were on the bench in the fourth quarter with five personals. And Lindsey Jahn was whistled for her fifth two minutes into overtime.
So, the Lancers had to rely on some lesser-experienced players. And they did battle just the same.
“They were young girls in a tight game,” said Jay. “It’s hard to think in a situation like that. It’s hard to keep your head. But they did great. They never quit.”
GM was down 40-37 with 32.3 seconds to play in regulation. But Michelle Jahn tied it up with a clutch 3-pointer. Then Lindsey Jahn grabbed a steal as Conneaut was bringing the ball up the court and returned it to the Lancers’ hoop for a layup, giving her team a 42-40 lead with 6.3 seconds to go.
Litwiler was then fouled while the Eagles were bringing the ball up the court. And following a stressful time out, Litwiler swished both free throws to tie the game.
Michelle Jahn’s running jumper at the buzzer missed, sending the contest into OT.
“It was scary,” Litwiler said about her two freebies. “But everyone had confidence in me. I work at my foul shots at practice and it really paid off. And the things my teammates said to me during that time out really helped. They believed in me.”
Into overtime we went. Lindsey Shidemantle hit the front end of a two-shot foul to give Conneaut an early 43-42 lead. Then both teams engaged in a physical defensive scrap for the next couple minutes. Finally, with 56.5 seconds left, McLane’s Haley Higham bucketed a pair of free throws to push the Lancers ahead 44-43.
Conneaut’s Kristen Baker came up with the answer to that. On an inbounds play, she let loose a 3-pointer from the corner. It was good. Conneaut led 46-44. But that ended up being Baker’s her last play. She fouled out on the way back down the court on defense.
Michelle Jahn was the victim. She stepped to the line for a 1-and-1. She missed the first, but Bethany Miller grabbed the offensive carom and put it in the hoop to knot the score at 46.
Then with 10 seconds left, Shidemantle got another turn at the foul line. She made both to inch the Eagles back in front.
After that, Michelle Jahn was placed back on the line for another chance at a 1-on-1 with 5.9 ticks remaining. She missed the first. The Eagles got the rebound and the time ran off the clock, giving Conneaut the win.
“Streaks and foul shots,” said Conneaut coach Bill Stevenson. “That’s what we talked about at halftime. In games like this it’s about streaks and foul shots. We knew they were going to go on a streak in the third quarter. And that’s exactly what happened. But we made the foul shots in the end.”
McLane owned a 10-6 lead after the first quarter. But Conneaut put on the press in the second. That turned into a nine-point scoring run for the Eagles, giving them a 21-14 lead. They stayed in front 23-17 at halftime.
However, McLane enjoyed an eight-point run in the third quarter to take a 26-25 lead with 3:32 left in the frame. And the rest of the second half was a slugfest, with both sides trading blows and trading the lead.
Conneaut just needed an extra four minutes to notch the win.
“There were a lot of big plays,” said Stevenson. “We talked about it after the game that there weren’t one or two winners in this. The whole team played hard. I’m proud of the kids. They stepped up.”
Litwiler ended the night with 19 points and 10 rebounds. She was named the MVP for the tournament. Baker — an all-tournament pick — added 13 points before fouling out. Shidemantle had five points, all on foul shots. Kimmy Litwin also had five points, including some clutch free throws in the fourth quarter.
For McLane, Celeste Seidel had 16 points. She had a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter which put the Lancers ahead for a little while. Michelle Jahn followed with nine points. Lindsey Jahn had eight and Katie Clark scored six.
Note: The win was the 101st for Conneaut head coach Bill Stevenson. He earned his 100th win on Thurdsay in the Eagles’ 45-26 victory over West Middlesex.
Seidel and Michelle Jahn were also selected to the all-tournament team.