ANDOVER - A year ago, Maplewood took something the Pymatuning Valley girls had come to believe was theirs. The Rockets broke the Lakers' string of four consecutive Northeastern Athletic Conference championships in claiming the title as their own.
This season, led by floor general Geena Gabriel and her first lieutenant, Kelsea Brown, the Lakers staged an assault in trying to liberate their title. The mission was wildly successful as the Lakers not only reclaimed their title, with a 56-41 blitzing of the Rockets in front of packed house Wednesday night, but another one, as well. PV claimed the top spot in the Associated Press' final Division III poll.
"That was a fun game to be a part of," PV coach Jeff Compan said. "That's a good win for us going into tournament time.
"The league is really, really good this year. We didn't win it last year after we had won it four straight years. I'm so proud of them. They deserve all the praise they get."
The Lakers (20-0, 12-0) have now won five of the last six NAC championships and six of the last eight.
"It's great to win the league," Gabriel said. "We won it my freshman and sophomore years. Last year, when we lost it to Maplewood, we wanted to come back stronger and win it back."
Gabriel and Brown joined forces to account for 44 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, 10 steals and a block in their conquest of Maplewood.
Brown led the way with 26 points, four boards, an assist and three steals, while Gabriel had a strong overall night with 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, seven steals and a blocked shot.
Leading, 22-18, at the half, PV steadily put some distance between themselves and Maplewood, leading 39-30 heading into the final period.
"We didn't make a lot of mistakes, but the ones we were making, they capitalized on," Maplewood coach Mark Yoder said. "They made a few, as well, but we weren't able to capitalize on them."
Brown netted nine of the Lakers' 17 points in the quarter.
The Rockets (18-3, 11-3) actually had their deficit down to four, 42-38, with 3:50 left in the game following Miranda Sloan's layup and two buckets from Brooke Dawson.
Just as quickly as the advantage shrunk for PV, it swelled back to 10 behind a pair of free throws and a layup from Brown and a steal and layup from Gabriel. Pymatuning Valley closed the game on a 14-3 run over the final 4 minutes.
"In the fourth quarter, we did nothing but make mistakes," Yoder said. "They took advantage of every one of the mistakes we made in the fourth. I told the girls at the half that whoever made the least mistakes was going to win. PV's a good enough team and they're well coached. They take advantage when you mess up."
Pymatuning Valley was 18 of 38 (47.4 percent) from the field and turned the ball over just 14 times. The Rockets were 17 of 41 (41.5 percent) from the field and turned the ball over 25 times.
"With 25 turnovers, the other team is going to shoot 50 percent," Yoder said. "They're getting layups. Those are high-percentage opportunities. Usually, we're able to do that. They play good defense. They've got some good, athletic players who get hands on passes to force turnovers. They were able to get down the floor and take advantage."
Sloan led Maplewood with 17 points and Dawson had 13.