By ERIC FORTUNE
For the Star Beacon
Despite some big time heroics by the Pymatuning Valley Lakers in the second half, it wasn’t enough as they fell 82-78 at Bristol in a battle for Northeastern Athletic Conference supremacy.
After both squads exchanged buckets throughout the opening quarter en route to a 20-19 lead for the Lakers, it was the Panthers who would explode in the second quarter.
The 10-of-14 shooting broke the Lakers back as six of those field goal were from beyond the arc.
“Bristol has some great shooters,” Pymatuning coach Ryan Fitch said. “We knew that going in. We had some decent high hands on some shots, but they were hitting them from the volleyball line. Brandon Lee had a couple that were ungodly. When they go in like that, we’re in trouble.”
The Panthers would stretch their 48-37 halftime advantage to as much as 18 points at one point before Fitch decided to take a gamble and try his luck at letting his team press against Bristol.
The strategy was more than just successful. It changed the complexion of the game.
“We went to a little bit of a press,” Fitch said. “Bristol usually handles pressure very well. Tonight was a night that they didn’t. I thought it got us back into the game, but I was afraid to go to it early because I thought they would kill us with it. Our pressure hurt them a little bit. We got it tight down the stretch. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Going into the fourth quarter, a game that the Panthers seemed to have complete control of at 59-41, it was anyone’s game with the Lakers cutting it within five, 63-58.
“I never felt comfortable even when we had an 18-point lead,” Bristol coach Craig Giesy said. “I knew how good of a team Pymatuning Valley was.”
Bristol would continue to have their troubles throughout the fourth quarter and saw the Lakers seize their first lead 78-76 since early in the second quarter with less than two minutes to play, but finally got another 3 by Johnny Simcox to take over the lead for good.
“We battled,” Fitch said. “Our kids have some great character. We battled the best we could. We cut it down, down the stretch, but just couldn’t get it to a point where we had the lead and could hold onto it.”
Lee and Oliver led the Panthers with 19 and 24 points respectively and battled well against the Lakers, who finished with four players in double figures.
“They hurt our chances of putting any type of shot up – not just three pointers,” Oliver said. “We maintained our composure down the stretch and got the win.”
Fortune is a freelance writer from McDonald.