MECCA - Normally the last home game in a senior's career is an emotional one, and it shows in his or her performance on the basketball court.
For the Maplewood Rockets, however, it not only motivated the player involved (senior Brooke Dawson), but also the entire team, which recovered from an early five-point deficit to beat Windham in Northeastern Athletic Conference play, 55-32.
"One thing about us is we're not a one-person team," Maplewood junior Ryley Urchek said. "To have this as Brooke's last home (regular-season) game, I think it brought all of us together more and had us play our game our way."
While Dawson still managed to total 11 points by game's end, seven came in the fourth quarter with the Rockets (18-2, 11-2 NAC Stars) well in control. The Bombers (13-6, 7-6) attempted to take away Maplewood's career-leading scorer with a zone, but it left other options open.
Urchek took advantage of the attention given to her fellow low-post player, accumulating a game-high 16 points and eight rebounds. The 5-foot-7 junior broke Maplewood's drought in the first quarter at the 5:35 mark to get the team rolling on a 12-0 run to finish the quarter, and then Urchek recorded six of the Rockets' first eight points in the third quarter, all of which came in the paint.
Urchek shot 70 percent on the night.
"I think Windham was so focused on Brooke because she's one of our key players that they forgot about the rest of us, and that's what fires us up," Urchek said. "If you don't give me the respect, then I'm going to put it up there."
On defense, the Rockets had to worry about Windham junior Jessica Isler, who drained five shots from beyond the arc in the teams' first meeting on Dec. 9. Maplewood coach Mark Yoder gave Victoria Karlovic the job of shadowing Isler, and she proved up to the task.
The junior held Isler to just two points from the free-throw line in the first quarter, a foreboding for the rest of the game. Isler finished with two 3s and 12 points in the game.
"She's our best defensive (player)," Yoder said of Karlovic. "She usually does a pretty good job not shutting (her opponent) down but just containing and making it really difficult on the other team's best scorer to score. She did a great job moving her feet, she drew two offensive fouls against Isler, so that was a key to the game."
Although the scoreline didn't favor the Bombers much, Windham coach Gregg Isler said he hopes this will be a learning experience for the district tournament.
"Maplewood's got a nice team," Isler said. "Obviously, they were the No. 1 seed in the south (sectional), and if we're ultimately going to win a district championship, we're going to have to figure out how to beat them."
Like their opponents, the Rockets are looking to use this week as a big indicator of where they're at heading into the tournament. Maplewood plays at undefeated Pymatuning Valley on Wednesday and then at LaBrae on Thursday, and Yoder said these games are similar to a week late last season, when the Rockets faced two quality opponents to prepare for a deep postseason run.
"Last year, we had two the last week with Lowellville and Newton Falls," Yoder said. "We happened to lose both of them, but they were both close games and we played pretty well. We learned a lot during those two games. So this game, Wednesday, Thursday - I think those are games that we're really going to be able to use to prepare ourselves for the tournament."