By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
Heart is not something that can be measured by numbers or box scores. Neither the Conneaut Spartans nor Grand Valley Mustangs are having stellar seasons, if all you look at is wins and losses. Both teams battle, and they went toe to toe Wednesday night at Grand Valley Gymnasiumbefore an early third period and later fourth period spurt, both by the Spartans, gained enough of an edge for them to escape with a thrilling 48-44 nonconference victory.
“I think Grand Valley played very well tonight,” Conneaut coach Tim Tallbacka said. “They play hard the whole game for Coach (Lucas) Strohm and put their full effort into getting better as a team.”
That Mustang’ effort especially disrupted the Conneaut (5-11) offense.
“They did a great job of keeping us out of any type of rhythm on offense,” Tallbacka said. “I think we had a slight edge inside, though, so when we were able to get the ball inside to Nick (Blood) and Bud (Ritari), we had some success.”
Strohm agreed with the assessment of his team’s defense.
“I’m really happy with how we played defensively tonight,” he said. “I think the biggest difference tonight was that we had spurts when we did a great job boxing out on the boards, and we also had a couple spurts when we didn’t, and they killed us inside when that happened.”
Blood was the only Spartan to reach double digits in scoring with 11 points. He also had 11 rebounds, and his presence forced the Mustangs to alter several shots from close range.
Down, 20-19, at the half, Conneaut opened the third period with an 8-0 run, ignited by a kickback pass from Blood to Michael Mirando in the left corner that went for three points, and Blood followed that shortly thereafter with a putback for another hoop.
Christian Williams, who scored all six of his points in the second half and kept Conneaut in the game in the first half with four of his six assists, hit the second of a two shot free throw opportunity, and Williams then found Jordan Geiser for a layup before Kyle Orgovan hit his only bucket of the night, a long trey from the corner with 4:17 to go to stop the bleeding.
A Williams jumper from the short right wing with 3:48 to go in the game tied the score at 42-42, Blood hit the front end of a one and one free throw chance to untie it with 2:34 to play, and senior guard Mirando nailed three free throws in the game’s last 35.3 seconds to settle the issue.
Solid Conneaut defense, also done the entire game, kept the Mustangs from getting off good shots in the last minute to bring the game to a close, but it was good long range shooting that kept the Mustangs close the whole way.
Paced by Josh Kovats with 13 points, Jake Vormelker with 12, and Stanley Sirrine with 10, Grand Valley (3-13, 2-7 in Northeastern Athletic Conference) hit 6 of 11 trey attempts, but couldn’t get off any good tries in that last minute.
“We knew coming into the game that Conneaut plays a physical style of basketball,” Strohm said. “I feel we played a really good game last night (a win at Badger), and another one tonight. We matched their physicality all night long until the very end. They hit some free throws, we didn’t get good shots, but we had our opportunities. I’m really proud of how our kids played.”
“As usual,” Tallbacka said, “our seniors picked us up tonight. We had too many turnovers (15) that came in spurts that Grand Valley scored on. I don’t mind aggressive turnovers if we’re hustling and loose control of the ball, it’s the passive ones that hurt. We didn’t have too many tonight, Michael made some free throws down the stretch, and we did what we had to to win.”
Blood was the only Spartan in double digits with his 11, but Mirando added nine, Ritari eight, Jordan Geiser seven and Williams ended with six.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.