GUYS MILLS — The gymnasium at Maplewood Junior/Senior High School is decorated with quite a number of banners. But a great majority of those banners acknowledge the success of the Lady Tigers’ volleyball program. Contrarily, the banner that documents the championships won by the girls basketball program hasn’t seen a whole lot of attention in recent years.
It will now.
Maplewood secured at least a share of the Region 2 title on Thursday night with a thrilling 56-53 win over rival Cambridge Springs at the Wood Shed. The title is the Tigers’ first since sharing the Region 3 championship with Saegertown in 2008-09.
“I wasn’t around when they weren’t playing well back in the days,” Maplewood coach Kyle Krepps said. “But you look up at the banner and you see it’s been a little while. We wanted to put one up.”
Krepps isn’t resting on those laurels. Maplewood hasn’t won a region title outright since winning the French Creek Valley Conference in 1992-93.
“I don’t like to share,” Krepps said. “I am not a sharing person.”
Maplewood improved to 18-2 overall and 14-0 in Region 2 with its win over Cambridge Springs and can clinch sole possession of the Region 2 title on Feb. 6 with a win over Cochranton or a Cambridge Springs loss to Saegertown on Monday.
The Devils (15-4, 12-2 Region 2) looked like they were going to have a say in Maplewood’s title race much sooner than Monday. Not only did Cambridge Springs jump out to a 6-0 advantage, it did so while putting the Tigers in foul trouble early. Four of the six points the Devils scored came from the free throw line.
The Tigers had five team fouls with 5:44 left in the first quarter. They were whistled for their seventh — putting the Devils in the single bonus — with just over 2:30 to play in the period.
But Maplewood, with everything to gain, fought through it. Izzy Eimer put the Tigers on the board with her first NBA-range 3-pointer with 4:57 to cut Cambridge Springs’ lead in half. After a basket by Ashton Hoover at the other end, Megan Mangus made a nice dish to Cassidy Mangus for 2. Then Eimer drilled her second trey to tie the score at 8-8. Maplewood took the lead on a basket by Sadie Thomas — a lead it would not relinquish until midway through the third quarter.
Maplewood did extend that lead to 10 in the second quarter (26-16). That’s when the Blue Devils, despite being in significant foul trouble themselves, opted to go with the full-court press on defense. The result was two quick turnovers that led to easy baskets by the Devils. With 51 seconds left in the half, the Tigers were nursing a 28-26 lead. Thomas turned a rebound into a fastbreak layup with 30 seconds left in the half to make it a four-point (30-26) game at intermission.
The score, however, wasn’t the story at the half.
Going into the locker room, Cambridge Springs had four players with at least two fouls, including their quarterback, Rachel Swanson, with three. Maplewood had five players with at least two fouls, including their point guard, Megan Mangus, with three.
The fouls only mounted in the second half, much to the chagrin of both Krepps and Cambridge Springs coach Rod Dies. But the Devils suffered more.
Swanson picked up her fourth foul on a charge less than 30 seconds into the second half. But the Devils, with Swanson still on the court, charged on. And it was Swanson who knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:28 left in the third quarter to give the Blue Devils a 37-36 lead — their first lead since the first quarter.
Maplewood did retake the lead (38-37) on a pair of free throws by Jordan Roser. With four seconds left, though, Hoover delivered to make it 39-38 in favor of the Devils. From there, it was an all-out battle.
The lead exchanged hands just as quickly as Cambridge Springs was losing players to fouls. There were three lead changes, in fact, and three ties through the first two minutes of the fourth quarter. During that time, the Devils lost starter Maddie Yanc to fouls with 6:14 left in the game.
“There are some things that are out of my control,” Dies said. “I coach that way. I tell the girls there are things you can’t control. It’s clear there is a problem. I’m not sure what the solution is.”
By the end of the game, the Devils had three of their four starters on the bench because of fouls. But not to discredit the Tigers. When the Devils had their own opportunities due to fouls, they didn’t convert. Cambridge Springs was 3 of 13 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
“It’s what we just talked about,” Dies said. “There’s two areas that could have beat all eight of them out on the court: getting fouls on us and the foul line. We were getting it inside. We were strong underneath and then we went to the foul line and fell apart. To miss 10 foul shots in the fourth quarter alone — you can’t do that against a good team.”
That allowed the Tigers to dig in and make clutch shots, including two more NBA 3’s by Eimer — one with 2:54 to play to give the Tigers the lead for good. Then there was Thomas, who had eight of her 14 rebounds in the fourth quarter.
“Jordan Roser is a great player,” Thomas said. “She’s just great on the floor. Izzy Eimer making her shots. That’s what won us this game. We played together.”
Eimer led the Tigers with 20 points.
“I don’t have a defensive play for that,” Dies said, referring to Eimer’s long 3-pointers.
Roser added 12 points and Thomas had 11 points.
For the Devils, Hoover finished with a game-best 25 points. Makenzie Yanc had 13 points.