By ED PUSKAS
The first victorious district final in Maplewood girls basketball history wasn’t exactly an aesthetic masterpiece.
But the Rockets’ 51-46 victory over Lordstown on Saturday at Rootstown High School was a beautiful thing to Maplewood’s players, fans and veteran coach Mark Yoder.
“It’s amazing,” said Rockets sophomore point guard Miranda Sloan, who scored 15 points and had four assists. “It’s just a big accomplishment for us. We’ve been going after this for — I don’t even know how long. We’ve been preparing for this every game.
“It’s just so exciting to get a goal — completely a goal — and to finally go to regionals.”
A Division IV regional semifinal Thursday will be a rematch of Rockets — Maplewood and Lowellville. The teams met on Feb. 11 in Mecca. Lowellville won, 59-50.
Guard Allison Bell, Maplewood’s lone senior starter, led the Rockets with 17 points and had eight rebounds against the Red Devils.
“We’ve worked so hard for this,” Bell said. “Coming in my senior year and doing all the things we have, it’s just beyond words to explain. I’m just so proud of my team.”
Junior Brooke Dawson (nine points, 10 rebounds), sophomore Ryley Urchek (four points, 11 rebounds) and sophomore Victoria Karlovic (six points) also made key contributions.
Dawson spent most of the game defending Lordstown junior star Sarah Cash.
Urchek’s basket to open the game gave Maplewood a lead it maintained the rest of the way. She also had nine of her 11 rebounds in the game’s first 11 minutes before sitting out the rest of the second quarter and all of the third with four fouls.
“Ryley is a rebounding machine for her size [5-foot-7] and if she doesn’t get into foul trouble, I don’t think the game is as close as it is,” Yoder said.
Bell and Sloan did most of their damage at the foul line. Bell made 10 of 12 attempts and Sloan sank 13 of 18, including seven of 10 in the fourth quarter.
Recurring trips to the free-throw line were all Maplewood (21-5) had in the fourth quarter. The Rockets missed all seven of their field-goal attempts in the final eight minutes, but were 15 of 20 at the line.
It was enough to hold off Lordstown (20-5). The Red Devils trailed by 11 points in the third quarter before rallying behind Cash, who finished with 27 points and 19 rebounds, and Ally Hajnosz, who scored 10 of her 13 points in the second half.
The 6-foot-2 Cash teamed with Hajnosz twice to make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.
Hajnosz passed to Cash for a jumper to get the Red Devils within two, 41-39, with 4:51 to play. But Bell made two foul shots and Dawson split two to give the Rockets a 44-39 lead 66 seconds later. The teams then traded turnovers over the next couple of minutes before Cash made two more foul shots to make it 44-41, but Lordstown got no closer.
“We were in it and then we made a couple of reach fouls far away from the basket,” Lordstown coach Dave Smith said.
“They stepped up and hit their free throws and extended the lead. We missed a couple shots down the stretch.”
Bell and Sloan put the game away at the line.
“I was nervous the whole game, even when we had a double-digit lead,” Yoder said. “They’re such an explosive team.”