ERIE — For a team that used the 3-point dagger to stifle its opponents all season long, the Maplewood Tigers girls basketball team saw the roles reversed on Friday. In the first round of the PIAA Class 2A Tournament, The Ellis School Lady Tigers went 7 of 17 from beyond the arc en route to a 39-36 upset of Maplewood at the Hagerty Family Events Center.
Natalie Jasper paced Ellis (19-7) with a game-high 16 points, while Natalie Graf connected on four triples off of Jasper drive-and-kicks for her 12 points. Alexis Crichlow posted a double-double of 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, which helped limit Maplewood to one-shot possessions. No other Ellis play made the score sheet.
Izzy Eimer contributed a team-high 14 points for Maplewood (22-4), who unfortunately had a rough go from the floor on the offensive end. The District 10 runner-ups made only three treys out of the 31 they attempted, and didn’t see a much better shooting percentage from short range (34.4%, 11-32).
Maplewood coach Kyle Krepps called the season-ending defeat “disappointing.”
“We just did not shoot the ball well at all,” Krepps said. “It wasn’t like they were contested looks; they were open looks, Solid looks. Live by it and die by it I guess.”
Defensively, Maplewood did everything it could have hoped for considering its first two bench players, Daphne Atkins and Cassidy Mangus, were out due to illnesses.
Jasper, who averaged 23 points per game for the third seed out of District 7, was held to only to 16 points with most of her shots faced with a hand or two in her way. For the most part, Maplewood stayed out of foul trouble with the limited help of the bench, and when Alexis Doolittle and Bailey Varndell were tabbed to spell the starters, they contributed.
“Megan (Mangus) and Liliane (Moorhead) were tremendous,” Krepps said of their defensive effort. “Liliane’s help tonight was just off the charts. The amount of pressure and blocks (Liliane) had was tremendous. You hold a team to 39 points, you better win the game.”
It looked like business as usual for Maplewood through the first quarter. Ellis tallied just one point off a Jasper free throw with 38 seconds left in the quarter, while Ellis missed all 16 of its shots from the field in the frame. Eimer scored six of her points in the quarter, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer off an in-bounds pass from Megan Mangus that put Maplewood up 12-1.
Maplewood worked its lead up to 13 points, its highest of the night, with 4:40 left in the first half following Jordan Roser’s trey at the top of the key that forced a 30-second timeout from the visitors. From there on, Maplewood was unable to knock down another triple until halfway through the fourth quarter as the Ellis was starting to heat up.
The Maplewood lead was trimmed down to six points by halftime, at 20-14.
In the third, Ellis got a pair of triples from Graf and seven points from Crichlow that included one trey. Jasper went scoreless during the period, but was able to set up her teammates with open looks. The second of Graf’s triples came tied the game for the first time, at 22-all, with 4:30 left in the quarter.
“We got a little taste of our own medicine,” Krepps said. “(Graf) killed us. When you’re a team that plays help defense like we do, as soon as (Jasper) penetrated, we stepped in the gap and (Graf) hit those 3’s on us.”
Although Megan Mangus put Maplewood back on top a minute later with her defensive rebound and transition lay-up at the other end, Ellis was able to send the game to the final quarter knotted up at 27-27 following Crichlow’s trey at the end of the canto.
A pair of made free throws by Crichlow, who grabbed two offensive rebounds leading up to her being fouled on the put-back attempt, gave Ellis its first lead of the night, at 29-27, with 6:15 remaining. Maplewood worked back to regain the lead by one point twice in the next couple of minutes before Jasper’s second triple of the night gave Ellis a 36-34 advantage with about two minutes left.
Down by two, Maplewood got a huge play from Eimer, who intercepted an Ellis pass near the top of the key and converted the takeaway into a transition lay-up that evened the score at 36-all with 1:45 left. However, Graf’s fourth 3-pointer of the game on the next Ellis possession put Maplewood behind again with 1:30 to go.
After a couple of empty possessions on both ends of the floor, Maplewood got a defensive rebound by Roser that gave the locals one more chance to go for the game-tying 3-pointer. Starting the possession with about 50 seconds remaining, Maplewood could not find an open look after running about 30 seconds off the clock, which forced Krepps to call a full timeout.
“We had it with (about 50 seconds left), and I was thinking if we get a 2-pointer we’d be fine,” Krepps recalled. “Then, we were piddling around, so I had to call a timeout to set up a (3-point attempt).”
On the in-bounds play, Roser was set up by a double-screen at the top of the key for a look from long distance, but her look quickly went away after the Ellis defense got to her. Eimer collected the offensive rebound with just over 9 seconds left, setting up one final chance to keep the season alive. However, Maplewood wasn’t able to pull through, as a questionable decision to shoot the ball from the post down by three points allowed time to expire.
“We wanted to run Jordan off the elevator screen for the three at the top,” Krepps said. “I thought we set good screens but they ran out at her. Then, we had it out of bounds with about (nine) seconds left. Then, the stress was that we needed a three, but we just lost our heads and threw up a two. It’s my fault.”
Maplewood’s unexpected season caps the end of the career of Roser, who will leave the program as one of the few 1,000-point scorers in club history. Fellow seniors Cassidy Mangus, Joey Blake and Daphne Atkins also will depart in the offseason. However, Krepps expects his team to learn from the painful loss and get back to the state playoffs next season.
“You have to understand the ride that we’ve had and where we’ve come from,” Krepps said. “I’m not patting myself on the back, but five years ago when I came here we were just worrying about getting enough for a team let alone worrying about state playoffs. There has to be more in regarding the mentality on how we approach the game. I still think we were timid. I’ll kick myself for eight months thinking about what went wrong.
“Going forward, we’re pretty solid. Hopefully we’ll learn from it and get back to this situation again next year, and I fully expect to. We could be better next year than we are now.”