BROOKFIELD - Newton Falls had only suffered one defeat thus far this season heading into Monday night's game at Brookfield.
While the Warriors were a sub-.500 team, Newton Falls didn't look past a squad that has developed into a rival in the past few seasons.
It was a good thing the Tigers didn't let up. It wasn't until the late going that Newton Falls was able to separate itself and earn a hard-fought 32-24 victory.
"I would say you looked at a contest between two very good defensive basketball teams," Newton Falls coach Mark Baker said. "The Brookfield defensive effort that they put forth, the intensity and the aggressiveness that they bring on the defensive end of the floor, a lot of teams are not going to shoot the ball well against them.
"Anytime Brookfield and Newton Falls get together, it seems like every year it's a close game. It's always going to be a defensive battle because those two teams really, really get after each other."
It was a tight game throughout, as Brookfield only led 2-0 and Newton Falls' biggest advantage until the final minutes was five points. Warriors coach Shawn Hammond said just a few plays here and there made the difference.
"They're 14-1 or 15-1 for a reason. We knew that," he said. "We felt like we're playing defense with everybody. We're just having a hard time finding ways to score. We make a couple outside shots, it's a totally different game."
With Newton Falls (15-1) leading 29-24 with 32.1 seconds to play, Destiny Hutson made a free throw. After missing the second, Hannah Zelle grabbed a huge offensive rebound that Baker said was critical.
"Hannah Zelle came up with some loose balls," he said. "That play where Hannah got a rebound off a free throw, I thought that was a real crucial turning point in the game. That gave us an extra possession to run a little more time off the clock."
Brooke Barreca led the Tigers with a game-high 14 points. She opened the fourth quarter with a basket that gave her team a 25-19 lead, and as time ticked away she earned a jump ball to give Newton Falls possession and scored a layup at the final buzzer.
"Brooke got some key buckets there at times. She had some points," Baker said.
Brookfield (5-8) had a difficult offensive game and only its strong defense kept it in the game. The Warriors made only eight total field goals. Their first didn't come until 4:55 remained in the first half and their second came with 1:10 to play in the second quarter.
After Newton Falls led 17-12, Ashley Kirila made a pair of free throws and Brooke Hiner added a steal and two more free throws that tied the game at 17 with 1:51 left in the third quarter. The Tigers came back to take a 23-19 lead heading into the fourth.
"You've got to have people who are ready to pull the trigger and have confidence," Hammond said. "That's something we've got to overcome. Hopefully in the next three weeks we start shooting.
"We're not playing bad, we just had some bad turnovers at inopportune times. You just can't do it."