Alexis Doolittle

Maplewood’s Alexis Doolittle (15) goes up to the basket against Union City’s Cyaira Zielinski during the third quarter of Thursday’s Region 2 game. 

GUYS MILLS — After the Maplewood Tigers girls basketball team experienced quite the letdown on Tuesday, in which they let a 12-point second half lead slip away to Cochranton, the Tigers bounced back on the court on Thursday against the visiting Union City Bears. Four different Tigers scored double figures as Maplewood notched a 57-23 Region 2 victory over Union City at The Woodshed.

Sadie Thomas and Izzy Eimer each tallied a game-high 14 points to pace the Tigers (7-3 overall, 6-2 Region 2). Alexis Doolittle and Bailey Varndell both contributed 10 points to the winning cause.

Eliza Reynolds headed the Bears (6-8 overall, 4-7 Region 2) attack with 11 points. Jessica Messenger added four points.

It’s safe to say that Maplewood had a statement to make following its one-point Region 2 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday. Union City was red-hot coming to town, winning three of their last four games and its only loss in that span coming in overtime to Region 2-leading Saegertown. Maplewood coach Kyle Krepps made sure that his players knew that Thursday’s game was a turning point in the season. 

“Before Wednesday’s practice, I put on the board that it was the most important practice of the year,” Krepps said. “We could go one way or the other. They worked hard in practice and played well tonight. I knew they would and would be ready to go.”

Maplewood jumped out in front 21-5 by the end of the first quarter and was in control for most of the evening. Union City tried to repeat the second-half success that Cochranton had earlier in the week by trying to force the Tigers to turn the ball over with a 2-1-2 full-court press. One Tiger giveaway was committed on the first possession against the press, but after that, the home team was able to fight through it and convert with lay-ups. 

The early success against the press forced the Bears to revert back to a man defense, and Krepps was pleased with how the Tigers handled the early pressure this time.

“The first time we saw it, we turned it over, but then we calmed down,” Krepps said. “The best thing was that we scored after we broke it.”

The Tigers turned in one of their best defensive performances of the season, limiting the Bears to just 23 points. Union City’s Reynolds was averaging just over 20 points per game coming into the contest and recently eclipsed the 1,000-point threshold for her career. Nevertheless she was kept in check for the majority of the night. She was only 2 of 18 combined from short and long range, and got six of her 11 points from the free throw line.

Krepps gave credit to Megan Mangus and Natalie Kurt for their defensive efforts on Reynolds after the game.

“Eliza is a great player, but Megan did a terrific job and I was impressed,” Krepps said. “Megan took her right out of her game and you could tell she was visibly frustrated a little bit. That’s what you try to do as a defender. Kurt did a great job on Eliza when Megan came out. She volunteered for the job and stuck to her.”

The Bears converted only 5 of 49 attempts from the field during the contest, but they made it to the free throw line often. Union City shot 12 of 28 from the charity stripe, and Krepps said that the fouls committed were the only blemish of the night.

“I thought we played a great game except for the fouling in the first half,” Krepps said. “The good part about that was we stressed it at halftime to stop with the petty fouls, and the second half was perfect. The Reynolds girls drive it hard and look for contact. If you’re putting your hands in there any way, you’re going to called. We did so much better in the second half.”

The victory gives Maplewood some momentum heading into a critical week for the Tigers’ playoff aspirations. Maplewood will travel to Union City on Saturday at 1 p.m. in a rematch with the Bears. Then, the Tigers will have a home game against Saegertown before heading on the road to Seneca and Cochranton.

“This next week beginning on Saturday is a huge week,” Krepps said. “There’s five teams that are lumped right together with a chance at the region title. (Our girls) know what it takes and they want it bad. They’ve had a taste of it for a couple of years.”

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