ROOTSTOWN - Going into Maplewood's Division IV district semifinal against archrival Bristol, people expected the game to be as close as the previous two encounters.
The Rockets won both by a combined seven points, leaving very little to separate the two squads.
Well, Maplewood's Miranda Sloan popped those expectations on Thursday night.
The sophomore point guard had a career night, scoring 29 points and recording 12 steals to lead the Rockets to a 63-46 win over the Panthers at Rootstown High School.
"At the beginning of the game, we said we had to go out with intensity," Sloan said. "Bristol is one of our biggest rivals, and we knew they were coming out with intensity. Getting steals right off the bat really helped us out. I couldn't have done that without my teammates."
She definitely brought the intensity.
Sloan scored her team's first six points in the game, and with Maplewood's full-court press mauling the Panthers, she claimed six steals by the end of the quarter as the point man on the press. She helped the Rockets (20-5) take a 10-6 deficit at the 2:04 mark in the first and turn it into a 23-10 lead with 6:09 remaining in the second quarter.
Even when Bristol (16-7) broke the press and got into the half-court later in the game, Sloan wreaked havoc on the Panther ball handlers, coming in from their blind sides and taking the ball right from their hands.
Maplewood coach Mark Yoder said that based on the previous two matchups this season, he knew his team's quickness, especially Sloan's, was a big advantage for the Rockets, and the Rockets used that to amass 21 steals.
"It's not as much sneakiness as it's a little bit better foot speed," Yoder said. "We knew we had a speed advantage on that team. Miranda's pretty quick, and the defense we were playing played into her strength."
Despite his team's defensive effort, Yoder wasn't thrilled by his team's effort on the offensive end. He said the rockets missed too many easy buckets.
"Basically, the only thing that won that game for us is we outhustled them," Yoder said. "That's the only thing I can see that we had an advantage on was hustle."
Bristol coach Lisa Gabrielson lamented on her team's 25 turnovers, including 18 in the first half.
"We knew their gameplan," Gabrielson said. "It's frustrating and disappointing that even though we knew it was coming, we did what I told them not to do.
"But they worked hard. They never gave up. They didn't play a horrible game - it's just those turnovers killed us."
Now, the Rockets move on to face Lordstown for the Division IV district title in Rootstown on Saturday at 1 p.m. Sloan said that the team is excited to be so close to achieving its goal.
"We've been working for this since the beginning of the season," Sloan said. "We knew that if we were ever going to get to the district final, this would be the year.
"We really excited right now. I can't even breath."