GUYS MILLS — Thursday's rematch and de facto Region 2 championship game between the Cambridge Springs Blue Devils and Maplewood Tigers had all of the makings of a game to remember. Emotions were running high for both clubs, the crowd was into the contest until the end and the game wasn’t decided until its final seconds.
In the end, it was the Tigers who nailed a couple more clutch buckets and free throws than the Blue Devils did, as Maplewood clinched at least a share of the Region 2 crown with a gutsy 56-53 victory at The Woodshed.
Earlier in the season, Maplewood (18-2 overall, 14-0 Region 2) avenged the losses of years’ past with a 68-60 victory up at Cambridge Springs (15-4 overall, 12-2 Region 2) on Dec. 23 to put themselves in control of the region. By sweeping the season series after Thursday night’s thriller, the Tigers can win the region outright on Feb. 6 with a win at home against Cochranton, and potentially finish the campaign with a perfect region mark by beating Union City in the regular-season finale on Feb. 10.
“I wasn’t around when (Maplewood) was not playing well in those days, but you look up at the banner and see it’s been a while; not that we’ve clinched (the region title) yet,” Maplewood coach Kyle Krepps said.
En route to setting themselves up nicely with two games left to play, Maplewood, along with Cambridge Springs, had to quickly adjust to a tightly called game by the officials. Fourteen fouls were called in the first quarter alone, and eventually five players fouled out of the game: Rachel Swanson, Maddie Yanc and Ashton Hoover from the Blue Devils, and Cassidy Mangus and Sadie Thomas of the Tigers.
Krepps agreed that the officials set the tone early, but it wasn’t unexpected.
“I told the girls in the locker room that they were going to call it tight,” Krepps said. “It’s not up to (the officials) to adjust to us, it’s up to us to adjust to them. We were a little slow at learning that. We got better in the second half, but we weren’t quite there.”
Maplewood found themselves down 6-0 through the first three minutes before Izzy Eimer landed the first of her five 3-pointers from way down town to get the tigers on the scoreboard. The Tigers finished the quarter on a 13-2 run that put them ahead 13-8 after the period. However, three of their five starters were tagged with at least two fouls.
With eight second-quarter points from Jordan Roser, the Tigers worked toward their largest lead of the evening, at 26-16, with just 3:19 left in the half.
However, Cambridge Springs brought out its patented full-court press down the stretch, which allowed the Blue Devils to get back in the contest. Maplewood had six turnovers during the remainder of the half, as Cambridge Springs began to close the gap.
“We either went too passive or too aggressive,” Krepps said of his team’s play against the press in the second. “There was no middle ground. We’re used to Megan (Mangus) and Jordan being the frontmen on that press, but we had Izzy in that situation. We don’t put Izzy in that because she intends to go aggressive. She tried to adjust and went super slow, which allowed them to get after us a little bit more. We were just all out of sorts. Then, we tried to adjust and went too fast, and we were still turning it over. I wasn’t happy about that; it was definitely a downer.”
With the Tigers lead trimmed to just two points, Maplewood’s Sadie Thomas took advantage of a Cambridge missed shot in the closing seconds by grabbing the defensive rebound and driving the ball in transition down to the other end of the floor where she connected on a lay-up to end a 10-0 Blue Devils’ run and put the Tigers up 30-26 at the break.
In the third, Hoover came alive in the post for the Blue Devils, scoring 10 of her game-high 25 points. Her post-bucket at the horn to close the third period gave Cambridge Springs a slim 39-38 advantage with just eight minutes left to go.
Down the stretch, it was only fitting that Thursday’s showdown would be decided at the free throw line. Cambridge Springs, who made 18 of 18 from the charity stripe in the first half of the Dec. 23 contest, was unable to repeat that success at the line on the road. The Blue Devils had more free chances in the fourth quarter, but they were unable to capitalize with a 3-for-13 effort. Meanwhile, Maplewood went 6 for 10, while Roser made all six of her tries in the game.
“I feel that Jordan is going to make every free throw she shoots and she did tonight,” Krepps said. “Megan was big, making a couple and Izzy has been working on it, so I was happy to get one out of that. Also, (Cambridge Springs) didn’t shoot as well as they normally did.”
Cambridge Springs saw its final lead of the night at the 4:30 mark before Liliane Moorhead picked up a key offensive rebound and put-back bucket to tie the contest. Later in the period, Eimer made two more of her triple that were the pure definition of “long-range,” including a dagger with under a minute to go with her coach yelling “No! No! No!” in the background.
“On the bench, coach told us to shoot no 3’s and only lay-ups, but as we walked away, he said to me that if I had a dagger to hit it,” Eimer said. “I had it and I hit it.”
For Maplewood’s senior players, Thursday night was more than just a victory over a tough region opponent. It was the culmination of hard work after losing every matchup to Cambridge Springs prior to this season.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Roser said. “We seniors were hugging and crying because we went our whole careers losing to them. To beat them both times our senior year, it’s all we’ve been working for.”
Roser finished with 12 points, while Eimer paced the Tigers with 20. Thomas also chipped in a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds.