Maplewood more prepared for rematch with Lowellville

Going into Maplewood’s Feb. 11 matchup with Lowellville, Maplewood didn’t do its homework.

Instead of scouting the team’s opponents ahead of time, coach Mark Yoder elected to go into the game blind and make adjustments on the fly. That plan failed, as the Rockets of Mahoning County beat the Rockets of Trumbull County in Mecca, 59-50.

Needless to say, when the teams meet up tonight at Massillon Perry High School in a Division IV regional semifinal, Maplewood will know more about its opponent. Tipoff is at 6:15 p.m.

“When we played them the first time, we really didn’t know what to expect from them,” Yoder said. “We didn’t scout them at all, and we just played it by ear and made adjustments during the course of the game.

“Now we know that team a little bit better. We’re going to be a little more prepared for them this time.”

One problem facing Maplewood (21-5) is Lowellville’s shooting ability.

Three Lowellville (23-3) players average double figures, starting with senior Kaye Solak at 15 points per game. Rachel Durbin and Maddie Opritza average about 13 and 10 points per game to supplement Solak on the offensive end.

Opritza is dangerous from beyond the arc, shooting about 45 percent on 3-pointers. Solak and Durbin tend to cut to the basket for many of their points and shoot around 42 and 43 percent, according to Lowellville coach Tony Matisi.

“Just about everyone can step up and make an open shot,” Yoder said. “You really got to close on them on defense and contest shots. They’re a very dangerous team, especially as far as 3-point shooting goes.”

The loss, less than one month ago, taught Maplewood valuable lessons.

Lowellville took its first lead of the game with more than 2 minutes remaining and eventually pulled away for the win. The Inter Tri-County team pressed in the fourth quarter to create turnovers and easy baskets at the other end. Yoder said that this experience helped the team learn how to close out games.

“We learned that we need to play with intensity all four quarters and not just three,” sophomore forward Ryley Urchek said. “We kept up with them for the first three and we fell short the last one. I think we need to keep up our intensity and play as a team.”

Although the teams played a close one in the regular season, there’s a vast difference in postseason experience.

Lowellville will make its fifth straight trip to the regional tournament, while Maplewood won its first-ever district title on Saturday. Yoder admitted experience definitely goes to the opponent, even if his opposite number said otherwise.

“Even though we went last year for the fourth time with girls who had been there and played four times, it’s still quite the awe factor,” Matisi said. “I don’t think anything prepares you for walking into that big arena. It really takes a while to settle in, and sometimes you don’t at all.”

Still, Yoder said he expects that once the game gets underway, his players will get over the glamour effect of playing on a new stage.

“They’ll be excited for sure,” Yoder said. “They have some butterflies and some nervousness going in, but I think after that ball’s thrown up on that opening tip, they’ll be ready to go.”

As for Maplewood’s chances, the players take heart in the fact that they played Lowellville close without knowing much about their opponent and believe they can win the rematch.

“We think they’re pretty good,” junior center Brooke Dawson said. “We’re going to give it our all, and we think we can come out on top.”