Champion handles Newton Falls in key AAC tilt

NEWTON FALLS – Champion girls basketball coach Jeff Thompson reached back 19 years to find an analogy for the inconsistencies of the Golden Flashes.

“Our favorite movie should be ‘Forrest Gump,’ because we are a box of chocolates,” Thompson said after a 47-36 win over the Newton Falls Tigers Monday in an All American Conference, National Division game. “Tonight was a good chocolate.”

It was a chocolate that didn’t melt under the heat of pressure from the Tigers, who were forced to play aggressively on defense after falling behind at the outset. The Flashes handled most of what was thrown at them to avenge a loss earlier this year and hand the Tigers (16-2 and 8-1) their first conference defeat.

“Defensively, we closed out when they shot the ball and we rebounded well,” Thompson said. “We limited their offensive rebounds. On offense we moved the ball well, got some open looks, made some jump shots and went to the free-throw line.”

Not much went right for the Tigers on the offensive end. They were 11-of-43 from the field and failed to score in double digits in each of the first three quarters.

“Defensively I thought the kids played great; they played hard,” Tigers coach Mark Baker said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go in. Hats off to Champion. They played well. They were good defensively and rebounded the ball very well. We just couldn’t get any shots to fall.”

Flashes point guard Jordyn Skaggs faced the biggest challenge in dealing with the defensive pressure. Skaggs missed time in both halves with foul trouble, but when on the court she was able to get the ball into the hands of teammates on the wings most of the time.

“I’ve had to deal with it almost every year,” Skaggs said. “I just have to keep my head in the game and try to break it. If I can’t, I have my teammates to rely on.”

The Flashes (12-9 and 6-3 in the conference) played well when Skaggs was on the bench, but there’s no question that Thompson prefers having her running the show.

“Skaggs is just a bulldog of a point guard,” Thompson said. “This is one of our best efforts of the year.”

Mackenzie Kiser had a big game inside for Champion, scoring 15 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Kelly Robinson made two 3-point shots in finishing with 12 points. Gabby Lamont played the point well in Skaggs’ absence in scoring 10 points.

“It definitely was our best game of the year,” Kiser said. “We all contributed. We passed the ball until we got an open look. We didn’t care who scored, as long as we got a good shot.”

Champion took control in the third quarter after opening a 17-13 halftime lead. The Tigers got to within two points at 19-17, but the Flashes scored 14 unanswered points to stretch the lead to 33-17. Danielle King ended the streak with a 3-pointer for the Tigers, who trailed 33-20 entering the final period.

It might have been one of the best quarters the Flashes have played this season.

“We knew they were going to come after us and press like crazy,” Kiser said. “We knew to keep our cool and keep attacking the hoop and draw a foul.”

That’s exactly what happened in the fourth quarter. All 14 points scored by Champion in the fourth period came from the foul line, including 6-of-8 by Kiser.

Brooke Barreca and Hannah Zelle each scored nine points for the Tigers.

“Coach Thompson’s teams are always disciplined and execute well down the stretch,” Baker said. “They get a little bit of a lead, and they’re going to do a very good job of holding onto it.”

Champion is at Jefferson Thursday. Newton Falls hosts Lakeview in a battle for first place in the AAC National Division Thursday.