MECCA - Heading into Tuesday night's showdown with Maplewood, Pymatuning Valley faced a must-win situation.
The Lakers already lost two Northeastern Athletic Conference games, including one to Maplewood, which left them two games behind their rivals. Another loss to Maplewood would all but ensure a NAC title for the Rockets and end to PV's five-year stranglehold on the conference.
"We lost a close one to Lordstown at the beginning of the year and two points to Maplewood," PV coach Jeff Compan said. "If we had lost (Thursday night), there would have literally been no chance."
As it was, the Lakers kept themselves alive for a sixth-consecutive conference crown with a 56-43 win over the Rockets.
To go along with conference supremacy, Compan said his team wanted a little payback from the previous encounter.
"We wanted a little bit of revenge tonight," he said. "They beat us at our court, and the girls came out today with great intensity, and we defended very well. That was a good win for us."
PV's path to success came from a mid-game adjustment that goes against how the Lakers (14-2) normally play.
The Rockets (11-3) shredded PV's full-court press for much of the first half and scored easily at the other end. Maplewood used this to come back multiple times in the first half, going into halftime down 25-23.
Compan said he saw how Maplewood point guard Miranda Sloan ripped apart the press and called it off for the second half. That move paid dividends.
The Rockets started forcing shots and throwing the ball into dangerous situations. The Lakers took advantage of the errant passes, going on a 10-2 run to blow open the game in the first five minutes of the third.
"They didn't press as much (as last game)," Maplewood coach Mark Yoder said. "I think they took the press off because we were getting some easy baskets off of it in the first half, which ended up being a pretty wise decision on coach Compan's part. After that, we didn't get any real easy looks at the baskets."
Throughout the game, Maplewood struggled against PV's half-court defense, despite doing its best in the early going to break it down.
The Rockets moved the ball around quickly and even threw skip passes over the zone to find a hole in it only to find out that the Lakers held tight.
Compan said that he used the zone despite his fear of the Rockets' Allison Bell. Luckily for the Lakers, the senior guard didn't find her rhythm until the fourth quarter, scoring seven of her game-high 17 points in the fourth.
"We were very worried about Bell making shots," Compan said. "Had she started to make shots earlier in the game, we would have adjusted and come out of it."
As much as Compan worried about Bell, Maplewood's Brooke Dawson had the most success against PV's zone.
The junior center found the seemingly only open spot at the high post and turned that into 12 first-half points. The Lakers took her out of the game in the second half, though, and she finished with 16 points.
"A lot of time, defenses are keying on her," Yoder said. "So, it's hard to get her the ball off of direct pass... When you're one of the leading scorers on the team, the other team's keying on you. That's when other players have to step up and do the job."
Yoder said that these games have always been hard-fought contests due to the nature of the rivalry, considering either team has won the last 14 conference titles. Before PV's reign of five-consecutive titles, Maplewood won seven in a row.
"Games against PV are always big ones," Yoder said. "I can't ever remember having a game here or at their place, that wasn't very intense, that wasn't close most of the time. It's a battle every time these two teams play.
"The team that shows up and play the hardest and makes the fewest mistakes has always been the team that's won."