By Lisa Byers
February 1, 2013 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
One of the big keys to success for the Conneaut girls basketball team this season has been its play on defense.
Going into Thursday night’s non-region contest with Class AAA foe Meadville, the Eagles were allowing a minuscule 32.6 points per game and only one of its previous six opponents had scored more than 27 points.
Last night, however, wasn’t one of the Eagles’ best defensive efforts and it nearly proved costly. Fortunately for Conneaut, a big first quarter wound up being enough.
Conneaut outscored Meadville 21-5 in the first quarter on its way to a 62-55 win over the Bulldogs last night at the House of Thrills.
The Eagles improved to 15-2 overall with the win. Meadville fell to 4-13.
“Coming out of the third quarter into the fourth, I told them, ‘We got enough points to win. We need to play defense now,’” Conneaut coach Bill Stevenson said. “They have some big time shooters who came up big for them in the end. We contained them for a little bit and made some big foul shots and forced a few turnovers, but when we let them get into their offense, they were able to score.”
And that created a pretty exciting final quarter.
Meadville entered the fourth quarter down 50-37 after trailing by as many as 20 in the first half. The Bulldogs cut that lead to single digits during an 11-0 run midway through the fourth. Senior Shauntia Vactor-Pope scored nine of those points, including a layup off a steal that cut Meadville’s deficit to just five (53-48) with 4:27 remaining.
Conneaut pushed its lead back to nine (57-48) following a layup by Lindsay Shidemantle and a pair of free throws by Challen Litwiler. Meadville was able cut that lead to six twice, but that ended up being as close as the Lady Bulldogs would get.
“We really came out and played hard in the second half,” Meadville coach Casey Heller said. “If we would have played that hard in the second half it would have been a closer game the entire game.
“I’m proud of them for the second half. They really turned it on. The first half just wasn’t so good.”
Conneaut came out of the gate on fire and jumped out to an 8-0 lead with 5:11 to play in the first quarter. The Eagle scored six of those points from the free throw line, the final two of which came from Kristen Baker on a foul by Katie DeWalt — her third of the game. Vactor-Pope was also in early foul trouble for the Bulldogs. She picked up her third personal foul with 4:04 to play in the second quarter.
Baker wound up scoring 11 points in the first quarter. She was 6 of 6 from the foul line in the period. The Eagles were 10 of 10 from the line as a team.
The second quarter is when Meadville started to heat up. And it was Kiashiah Newsome providing the spark. The freshman scored 10 points in the frame. She added seven in the third quarter, which the Bulldogs won 16-12, and finished the game with a career-high 22 points. Earlier in the evening she had scored 21 in the junior varsity contest.
“I think she is really starting to get some confidence,” Heller said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
Conneaut is now 2-0 against Class AAA teams. The Eagles beat Fort LeBoeuf earlier in the season. They still have Grove City remaining on their schedule to prepare for a likely Class AAA playoff berth.
“That’s a quality team,” Stevenson said of Meadville. “That’s our taste of triple-A ball. … It was a good learning experience for us. Our kids are exhausted.”
Four players scored in double figures for the Eagles. Challen Litwiler led the way with 18. She also had 15 rebounds. The junior came up big in the final quarter to help the Eagles seal the win. She scored six of her points and brought down five rebounds in the frame.
Kimmy Litwin added 16 points for the Eagles. Baker finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Shidemantle had 10 points and eight boards.
For Meadville, McCoy and Vactor-Pope were also in double digits. McCoy had 17 points and 15 rebounds (eight of those boards were recorded in the third quarter). Vactor-Pope had 12 points.