By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
The Pymatuning Valley girls basketball team has played big games before. Grand Valley is still learning what those games are all about. It’s a slight difference between the two programs when it comes to approach, but a big difference when it came to the outcome when the two battled for South County supremacy Thursday at Grand Valley Gymnasium.
That experience carried the Lakers to big spurts at the start of both halves in a 47-31 Northeastern Athletic Conference victory.
“We knew this is was a big game in the league and it’s a big game just because it’s the Battle of the Valley,” PV coach Jeff Compan said. “It’s important to both school districts. We were preaching to the girls before the game to go out and score the first blow.
“I’m proud of the way the girls came out. The air came out of the balloon a little bit after that, but we had a good start.”
“As it’s happening, it feels like you’ve been rabbit punched,” Grand Valley coach Kim Triskett said. “You’re thinking, ‘Geez, oh man!’ and you’re getting hit again. Part of that’s on me. I probably should have taken a timeout and calmed them down a little bit. I got a little overwhelmed, too.
“At the same time, the kids have to learn to play through that. It was a good learning experience all the way around. We still competed. We still worked hard.”
Pymatuning Valley (10-2, 5-2) opened the game with a 12-0 spurt and led, 18-6, through eight minutes. Megan Stech tallied six of the Lakers’ first 12 points and Kelsea Brown scored her sixth point to put her team up, 16-2, with 1:23 to play in the first period.
“When Megan gets early points, she seems to get in the flow of the game better,” Compan said. “She got a couple of early baskets and was very good rebounding for us tonight.”
The Mustangs (10-3, 3-3) turned the ball over on their first four possessions and a total of seven times in that opening salvo by the Lakers.
“If we don’t spot them 14 points, we’ve got ourselves a better ballgame,” Triskett said. “The second quarter, we were much better. We got it within five.
“That’s experience for us. We have to handle the pressure and not allow our opponents to take over our mindset.”
Not having that big-game experience may have contributed to the slow start for Grand Valley.
“We did address it before the game,” Triskett said. “We told them to keep an even keel and play like they would any other game. It’s easy to say, but we’re dealing with kids and their adrenaline. Of course they want to compete and play well, but there were some times that got the best of them.
“At the same time, there were moments they played well and they were able to see what they are capable of, as well.”
Fortunes were reversed for both teams in the second quarter.
Grand Valley forced 10 turnovers and did not allow a field goal in the period in cutting its deficit to just five, 24-19, at the half.
“Their help defense tonight was outstanding,” Compan said. “They did a good job clogging gaps. That’s something we usually exploit. We were standing around a lot in the second quarter because there were no attack angles.
“Their help defense was tremendous.”
The Lakers ran away and hid in the third quarter, outscoring the Mustangs, 17-3. They scored the first five points of the half and allowed just a 3-pointer to Kelly Preske.
“They turned it over twice and we took it to the hoop,” Compan said. “That took it to seven or eight points. This is a tough place to play. They’re a good team. They gave us all we wanted and then some tonight.
“The last thing I said before we came out was that this would be an important two minutes. It was either going to be a dog fight to the buzzer or we would get a cushion we’d be able to keep. It was nice to get a couple of hoops and stretch it out a bit.”
Brown led PV with 14 points, Stech had 12 and 15 boards and Heather Brant scored 12 points, 10 from the free-throw line.
Jessica Vormelker paced the Mustangs with 16 points.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.