ROOTSTOWN - It's been 16 years in the making, but the Maplewood coach Mark Yoder can finally say his Rockets are district champions.
Maplewood clinched its first-ever district title in girls basketball with a tight 51-46 win over fellow Northeastern Athletic Conference team Lordstown at Rootstown High School on Saturday afternoon.
"Coach (Robin) Rae and I have been waiting 16 years for this moment," Yoder said. "I'm proud of them winning it. This is the first ever district championship for Maplewood girls basketball. That's a pretty big accomplishment."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Maplewood’s Brooke Dawson, far left, has tears of joy roll down her face as her teammates celebrate their 51-46 Division IV district final Saturday at Rootstown High School. Maplewood advances to Thursday’s regional semifinal against Lowellville.
The achievement didn't escape the players, either.
"We've worked so hard for this," said Maplewood senior Allison Bell, who recorded a team-high 17 points in the win. "Coming in my senior year and doing all the things we have, it's just beyond words."
Although the players and coach were happy at the game's end, the Rockets (21-5) dealt with a few nervous moments in the second half.
After amassing an 11-point lead at the 3:21 mark in the third quarter, Maplewood saw its lead shrink to three points just 2 minutes later due to an 8-0 run. Sarah Cash led the way for the Red Devils (20-5) during the run with two putback baskets.
Overall, Cash dropped a game-high 27 points on the Rockets.
Maplewood increased its lead to a healthy eight-point lead at the 6:58 mark in the fourth quarter, only to see Lordstown claw back once again late in the game. The Red Devils managed to get within three points, 44-41, with 1:37 remaining in the game.
"Lordstown is a great team," said Maplewood's Miranda Sloan, who had 15 points. "When that score got closer, I was freaking out, but I knew as a team, we were strong enough to keep it going."
The Red Devils came back multiple times thanks to Maplewood's struggles from the field.
The Rockets hit only two field goals in the entire second half - a Bell 3-pointer at the 5:40 mark in the third and a Sloan layup with 1:29 remaining in the third - and went 0 of 7 from the field in the final quarter.
Lordstown's inability to keep from fouling throughout the second half led to its downfall, however.
The Red Devils sent Maplewood to the line 33 times in the final two quarters, including 19 times in the fourth. The Rockets shot 75 percent from the charity stripe in the game and clinched the game by going 7 of 10 from the foul line in the final minute-and-a-half.
"You would think we'd win that battle after that," Lordstown coach Dave Smith said in relation to Maplewood's two second half field goals. "We made a couple of reach fouls far away from the basket, and they stepped up and made their free throws."
The Rockets now move on to face Lowellville in Thursday's regional semifinal at Massillon Perry High School. Lowellville beat Maplewood earlier this season in Mecca, 59-50.
Yoder said he just wants the Rockets to play as well as they have all year.
"I'm just happy that we get to play at the regional," Yoder said prior to knowing Maplewood's regional semifinal opponent. "I just want to get to that regional game on Thursday and play whoever's there to play against us, and I hope we play as hard as we've been playing."