By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
Saturday afternoon marked the proverbial battle of an established program against one that has rebuilt itself into a good team. In this case, the one with experience won the battle — but just barely.
In the Premier Athletic Conference opener, the Geneva girls fought off a furious comeback by Riverside to wrest a 52-46 overtime decision in a contest between two early unbeatens.
The host Eagles (3-0, 1-0) saw a 13-point lead evaporate, but ouscored the Beavers (2-1, 0-1) 13-7 in the extra session, as Natalie Thomas (9 rebounds, 4 steals) scored four of her 15 points, Lindsey Mayle went five-of-six from the foul line and Becky Depp (4 assists), who was uncharacteristically held scoreless until the 2:35 mark of regulation, put in four of her six points.
Mayle, a freshman point guard, nailed four 3-pointers among her 19 points. Alexis Parsons tallied 21 points for Riverside.
“Lexi is our leader on offense and our leader on defense,” Riverside coach Brindi Kandel, who pointed out that the senior usually doesn’t leave the floor, said.
With Mayle nailing three triples in the first quarter, the Eagles led from the beginning until late in the contest. The Beavers did run off six points to slice a 13-6 deficit to 13-12.
But after leading 22-17 at halftime, Geneva ran off eight consecutive points for a 30-17 third-quarter advantage. However, Riverside countered with a 10-0 run, with Parsons and Megan Tamburiello scoring all the points. Mayle broke that streak with her final trey to end the period at 33-27.
The Beavers kept surging, and pulled even at 35 when Parsons hit a triple with three minutes left. Sarah Depp found her sister Becky for a cutting layup to regain the lead, but Parsons responded with a driving layup, and after an Eagle miss, Riverside grabbed its only lead when Parsons made a fast-break layup with 1:47 showing on the clock.
“The girls showed that they have that mental toughness about them,” Kandel said. “ And they didn’t collapse (when down by 13); they dug deeper and fought.”
“It’s no surprise — if you turn the ball over, you’re giving the other team more opportunities,” Geneva coach Nancy Barbo said. “And that’s exactly what happened to get them back in the game.”
Geneva then missed four shots, but came up with possession after each one. Finally, Emily Ball was fouled after grabbing a rebound and hit the two free throws to knot it at 39 with 1:04 remaining.
Riverside then missed a shot, the Eagles failed on a one-and-one with 35.3 seconds left, and then the Beavers couldn’t get off a good shot, sending the game into overtime.
Then after the Beavers missed the first three shots in overtime, Sarah Depp found Thomas for a layup to give Geneva the lead for good, and following two missed Riverside foul shots, Mayle nailed a one-and-one as Katie Klingman (7 blocked shots, 9 rebounds) fouled out.
After the sides traded possessions, Ashley Plassard converted a one-and-one to cut it to 43-41 with 1:54 to go. But a pull-up jumper by Becky Depp, a Thomas layup off a Mayle feed and two Becky Depp foul shots pushed it to 49-41 with less than a minute remaining. The Beavers could get no closer than four thereafter.
Barbo talked about how Becky Depp did other things to help the team while she wasn’t scoring.
“She is obviously going to be a key for everybody who plays against us,” Barbo said. “But her leadership in the end helped us pull through.”
Geneva outrebounded Riverside 51-34 including 16-9 in team boards, but suffered seven more turnovers (22-15). The Eagles were 14-of-19 from the line as compared to four-of-eight for the Beavers, and thus won despite sinking three fewer field goals (20-17) than their opponent.
“We wanted to focus on winning the battle of the boards today, and we wanted to focus on limiting our turnovers,” Kandel said. “We didn’t execute that well in the first half at all, and dug ourselves a little bit of a hole. And against a good team and a well-coached team, you just can’t do that. So we were fighting from behind the whole game because we didn’t take care of those two areas.”
Emily O’Dell grabbed seven rebounds and Mayle blocked three shots for Geneva. Abbey Militello had eight points and Megan Carabotta had four assists for Riverside.
“We wanted to focus on stopping (Becky Depp) and (Mayle),” Kandel said. “We did a good job on Depp. We let (Mayle) get some easy shots early on.”
Senior Riverside guard Kortlyn Carr injured her leg in the first minute of the second half. Her status is unknown pending an examination. Teammate Katie Lyden, a junior post, missed the contest with an injury, and her status is also unknown.
“They all as a group showed real mental toughness today, and I’m proud of ‘em for that,” Kandel said.
“They’re contender in this conference,” Barbo said. “And they showed tonight that even without some of their key players, that they can still battle to the end. I give them m a lot of credit. I think Coach Kandel is doing a great job with them.”
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.