COCHRANTON — The crowd expected a barn burner and, for the most part, that is exactly what it got.
Region 2-leading Maplewood took on Cochranton, which was just two games back of the Tigers in the standings, in a key region girls basketball contest at Cochranton High School. And it took a huge effort from Jordan Roser and company to keep the Tigers unbeaten. Maplewood got the effort it needed to defeat the Cardinals 74-59.
However, the game was much closer than the score.
“We just came out flat,” said Maplewood head coach Kyle Krepps. “And we’ve been coming out flat the last two or three games, really. But I wasn’t worried. I knew we just needed to settle in and start making some shots.”
There was no doubt Cochranton had come to play.
In the first quarter, the hosts were far from hospitable. They pestered Maplewood with a swarming defense, forced several turnovers and did a better job hitting the boards and getting to the loose balls. And when Megan Heim scored her sixth point of the period with 35 seconds left, the Cardinals led 16-7.
“We just have not been able to put a full game together,” said Cochranton head coach Dave Zamperini. “We put three quarters together or a great second half. But when we start to put four quarters together, this team is going to be tough.”
Then, just like that, momentum switched teams.
Sadie Thomas scored with 11 seconds left. Then, Liliane Moorhead stole the ball and added another bucket with two seconds left. What was a somewhat comfortable nine-point lead for Cochranton was suddenly down to five at the end of the period.
“That run was huge,” said Roser. “Sometimes when we look up and see that lead, we get down on ourselves. But when we got that little spurt, we were like, OK, we can do this.”
The momentum also carried into the second half.
Maplewood tied it with 5:28 to go in the half. After trading 3-pointers, Cochranton made a deuce and a free throw to regain the lead 22-19. The Tigers then scored six straight points and, after another Cochranton 3, dropped a seven-point run to go up 32-25. For good measure, Maplewood won the final minute of play 7-3 to lead 39-28 at the break.
Roser and Thomas each had 11 at the half. And Mangus scored all eight of her points in the second period.
“We wanted this game,” said Roser. “So we needed to keep pushing.”
Then Izzy Eimer came to play.
Scoreless in the first half, Eimer found her stroke in the third period. She got going with a 3-pointer with 6:35 to play in the period. She then scored three straight baskets to close the period. She ended with nine in the stanza as Maplewood extended its lead to 54-38.
“The 3-pointer is such a backbreaker,” said Krepps. “When someone makes a run and then you nail one, it deflates teams. So that was huge. Absolutely huge for us. We rely on the 3-pointer a lot.”
But Cochranton wasn’t going to roll over.
The Cardinals started forcing the issue on defense. The results were slow to come, but with Maplewood leading 65-48, things started to shift.
Heim, who had a very big night off the bench for the Cardinals, scored and shortly after made a free throw. Riley Harvey then hit a pair of free throws and Heim added another as two of Maplewood’s starters — Thomas and Moorhead — fouled out of the game. The lead was down to 65-54.
But Eimer drilled a 27-foot trey to break up the run. And after Eimer fouled out, Heim hit two more free throws and Harvey nailed a pair of freebies. Roser drove for a layup to end another threat. Cochranton had one more free throw in it, but Roser and Bailey Varndell then each hit a pair of free throws to ice the game with the help of some key rebounds by Eve Beuchat.
“Eve is just a scrapper,” said Krepps. “The smallest girl on the team but she will outwork anybody. That’s why I put her in there.”
“When our players started fouling out, you could see that look of like, ‘What are we going to do?’” said Roser. “So for them to come off the bench and make some big plays was huge. It was exactly what we needed.”
Roser finished with a game-high 23 points to pace the Tigers (9-2, 7-0 Region 2). Thomas tallied 16, while Eimer added 15.
Heim finished with 18 to lead the Cardinals (8-4, 5-3 Region 2). Jaidan Martinec made three 3-pointers to finish with 13 points. Lexie Moore (11) and Harvey (10) also broke double digits in the loss.