By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
Excitement was abound at Garcia Gymasium on Saturday night as Northeastern Athletic Conference rivals Grand Valley and Ledgemont squared off for the Conneaut Holiday Tournament championship.
The Mustangs ground out a 35-33 triumph.
“Wouldn’t you just know that we play them (Ledgemont) again in five days?” Grand Valley coach Kim Triskett said. “Fortunately, this one was at a neutral site. We did what we needed to do to win the game down the stretch. I just can’t say enough about our effort tonight.”
That effort down the stretch came on the heels of a 6-0 Redskin spurt that cut a 33-25 Mustang lead to 33-31 with 8.3 seconds left to play.
Tournament MVP Jess Vormelker, who battled through a 2-of-14 night from the floor to lead her team to the win, nailed both ends of a one-and-one and that was just enough to make a buzzer beating jumper from Megan Ritts of Ledgemont insignificant.
After taking an early 9-1 lead, Grand Valley (8-2, 1-2) started having trouble putting the ball into the hole. That issue would last the rest of the way. Fortunately, their defense was stellar, forcing 36 turnovers that included 18 steals.
It was just enough to offset a poor shooting night from the floor.
Grand Valley hit just 14 of 52 shots (26.9 percent), something that has been rare so far this season.
“There’s no secrets when we play Ledgemont,” Triskett said. “The games are aggressive all the way. I’ll take this one, though. A ‘W’ is a ‘W,’ even if it is ugly.”
“I was proud of our effort tonight,” Ledgemont coach Janet Nikses said. “Even when we got down 9-1 early, we never gave up. That third period was a struggle for both teams, but we know each other well and will do it all over again in just five days. We battled, but sometimes things just don’t go your way. You get through it and work harder next time.”
Caryssa Cantrell came off the bench to lead the Redskins (6-4, 3-2) with 10 points and nine rebounds. Jessica Fontana was a force inside with five blocks and many more altered shots, but other than a pair of six-point runs that tightened the game, the Redskins could not sustain anything any further to take a lead.
An Abby Paskey putback and Alexis Casessa steal and coast-to-coast layup just before halftime broke a 15-15 tie and gave the Mustangs a tenuous lead they maintained the rest of the way.
A 12-point second half from Chris Futty paced a limited offense for GV. She netted 14 in the game as the only GV player with more than seven. Vormelker and Casessa each tallied that number.
“I was a little frustrated tonight,” Vormelker said. “The shots just did not fall for me, but winning is all that matters. We did the team things we needed to do to win.”
While not scoring much, Kelly Preske was a prominent person all over the floor all night. She snared five rebounds, had five steals, and passed for two assists.
“We really like to share the ball with each other,” she said. “That’s what it takes to win and we’re doing well so far.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.