Finding their zone: Maplewood’s stingy defense shuts down Lowellville

MASSILLON – Coming into the Division IV regional semifinal game at Massillon Perry High School, Lowellville coach Tony Matisi expected to see Maplewood’s 3-2 matchup zone.

Expecting it and seeing it was a different matter, however, and at game’s end, he was left speechless by it.

Maplewood used a stifling defense effort to shut down Lowellville en route to a 45-36 win.

Matisi said his team threw everything in the book at it and still couldn’t break through the defense.

“We tried everything against it,” Lowellville coach Tony Matisi said. “I think I called every set we ever had. It took us out of any flow we might have had.”

Although Maplewood (22-5) coach Mark Yoder was concerned with Lowellville’s shooting ability, Lowellville never got going offensively.

Lowellville (23-4) scored on back-to-back possessions twice in the game (both in the second quarter), thanks to a night to forget from the field. The team shot 19.2 percent for the game on field goals with one-half of those shots coming from beyond the arc. Lowellville put in a 5-of-26 performance on 3-pointers.

Maplewood’s zone kept its opponent from driving into the lane and dared Lowellville to take outside shots, and when the Lowellville players did just that, they found their shots contested.

“We didn’t go out and contest hard enough (at the beginning),” Maplewood coach Mark Yoder said. “We had to call a timeout and tell them ‘You have to put a hand out on them shooters.’

“Every time we did that – put a high hand in their face – they weren’t even close to going in.”

The defense allowed Maplewood, which made its first-ever appearance in a regional game, to get over its nervousness at the beginning.

Maplewood committed turnovers on its first three possessions of the game, followed by a missed layup on the fourth and two consecutive turnovers on the fifth and sixth possessions. Despite this, Maplewood trailed by four points 3 minutes into the game.

“We weren’t very comfortable at the beginning,” Yoder said. “When the second quarter started, I think we were a little more comfortable. We realized that this gym is no different than any other gym we played on, the hoops aren’t any higher and the ball will go in if you step up and shoot with some confidence.”

Once Maplewood got it going in the second quarter, Lowellville couldn’t match it, and when Allison Bell hit two free throws with 42 seconds remaining in the quarter, Maplewood took a lead it never relinquished, although Lowellville managed to pull within one point at the 6:25 mark in the fourth quarter.

For Matisi, the loss was a disappointing one, considering his defense held Maplewood to 45 points and forced 19 turnovers.

“It’s disappointing because you didn’t play your best,” Matisi said. “That’s the thing that hurts me, hurts everybody. If we would have played our best and got beat, I’m fine with that.”

For Maplewood, the team goal was to win a district championship, earning this win is an added bonus.

“Our goal was just to make it to this game, and to be winning and keep playing is amazing,” said junior center Brooke Dawson, who scored a game-high 13 points. “I’m speechless about it.”

The team has little time to celebrate, though, as Maplewood faces Berlin Hiland in the regional final at Perry High School on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The second-ranked team in the state, the Hawks beat Lake Ridge Academy in the second regional semifinal on Thursday, 38-28.

The difficulty of the task ahead has not slipped the players’ or the coaches’ minds.

“We got one day to get ready for one of the best teams in the state,” Yoder said. “One day to prepare is not nearly long enough.”