Defensive Tigers win battle of AAC cats
Newton Falls shuts down Struthers’ shooters
By ERIC FORTUNE
The game plan was simple enough. Newton Falls coach Mark Baker wanted his team to close out on Struthers’ shooters and recover to get into double teams to force turnovers.
That strategy caused the Wildcats to shoot 6 of 24 in the first half as the Tigers led whistle to whistle to grind out a 39-31 win Wednesday night.
“Give Newton Falls credit,” Struthers coach John Grandy said. “They played good defense. You always give your opponent their due. Mark does a good job. They’re well-coached. They do what they’re supposed to do. We haven’t shot this bad for a while. We dug a hole which was hard to get out of. We kept after it, though.”
The Tigers (10-5, 5-2 All-American Blue Tier) were led by Alli Sembach’s 12 points. Izzy Kline and Libby Barreca each added eight.
Newton falls built a 10-4 advantage after one as the Wildcats shot 2-of-14 in the opening quarter.
The lead continued to grow as Sembach knocked down three 3s in the second quarter to increase the advantage to 28-14 at the half.
“We have a lot of girls that have the ability to score,” Baker said. “Especially with the tandem of Kline and Barreca to play on the inside, it does stretch a team’s defense. We’re getting good at moving Alli and our other 3-point shooters around to multiple places.
“When we can get into the flow of the offense and we start making seven or eight passes, you start to lose girls. When you lose somebody, the next thing you know, there’s a bad closeout, you get a little dribble penetration and we were able to find those. Alli got hot there and knocked down some big shots for us. It was big.”
Things didn’t improve for the Wildcats (12-3, 6-1 AAC White Tier) as they shot 2 of 13 in the third quarter, but back-to-back buckets from Khaylah Brown and Alexis Bury got the lead down from 17 to 13 and provided a little spark for Struthers.
Trinity McDowell’s made two baskets to open the fourth and get the Wildcats back within single digits at 32-23 for the first time since midway through the second quarter. She led the Wildcats with 11 points and was the only Struthers’ player in double figures.
Newtons Falls responded with a Sembach 3 to push it back out to 12, but Struthers had one more rally in it.
The Wildcats got within six after a Bury bucket with 1:51 to play.
The Tigers were limited in what they could do defensively after quickly picking up seven fouls to get the Wildcats in the bonus.
“They upped their defensive intensity,” Baker said. “We got ourselves in a little bit of foul trouble. They got to the line and made some free throws and started to gain some confidence. Because we have seven fouls, we had to start being a little more passive. That enabled them to be a little more aggressive. They were able to gamble a little bit more and get into those passing lanes. They got a couple of easy ones down the stretch.”
The Wildcats’ defense was impressive in holding Kline scoreless in the final quarter and holding the Tigers to just five field goal attempts and seven points. Kline came in averaging 21.1 points.
“Kline is a very good player,” Grandy said. “She can do so many things. I thought we were tough on her. We made her work for baskets. I thought we picked it up on defense. I thought the whole game we played good defense. Usually, when we hold a team to 39, we win. I don’t want to discredit them, but once in a while you have to make a shot.”