Energy in the air

LEAVITTSBURG – Energy has never been a big problem for the Newton Falls girls basketball team.

Their coach is Mark Baker, who provides enough intensity from the sideline to fire up even the calmest of athletes. His Tigers mimic that mentality, but as the season goes on, they suffer the same lulls as other teams.

LaBrae and coach Lisa Aldridge bring a more laid-back, tactical approach to the game, and while the Vikings have enjoyed their share of success with that philosophy, they too have had to grind through a busy time of year.

Neither team looked very tired during their crosstown rivalry on Thursday.

Newton Falls took an early lead and held off numerous comeback efforts by the Vikings in a 66-58 All-American Conference, National Division victory at LaBrae High School.

The Tigers (16-4, 9-1) appeared to be set for a rout after storming out to a 10-0 lead, but LaBrae (12-5, 6-4) quickly regrouped, and both offenses found their touch from then on out.

“Our kids kind of gear up to play each other a little more,” said Baker of the two teams. “Any time LaBrae and Newton Falls play each other, there’s just a little bit of extra energy involved there. It’s been a great rivalry over the years.”

This one was no different.

The offenses stayed consistent from start to finish. The Tigers had six players score at least eight points, with Hannah Zelle leading the way with 19. They took a 12-point lead into halftime and pushed it to to 18 in the third quarter, but as it did all night, LaBrae responded and pulled back within 10. The Vikings’ Lauren Rutherford was the catalyst, scoring seven of her 19 in the quarter.

“For some reason we came out a little nervous,” Aldridge said. “Our offense was there. It was more our defense. Their bigs underneath – it’s hard to matchup with (Gabby) Kline and (Brooke) Barreca consistently.”

Those two helped Newton Falls earn a 30-23 rebounding edge and kept the Vikings from any second-chance opportunities. That allowed the Tigers to again push its lead out to 18. Rutherford responded with two of LaBrae’s nine 3-pointers to pull within 12, but Newton Falls had too much firepower, scoring on three straight fastbreak opportunities to seal the victory. Aside from Zelle’s 19, the Tigers received contributions from Destinee Hutson (13 points), Alissa Abraham (9), Barreca (8), Sadie Sutton (8) and Kline (8).

Zelle said the balance is a key ingredient to Newton Falls’ success.

“It’s really important because it shows how well we play together,” she said. “If one person is having an off night, they’re going to help somebody else be on that night to get us the win. So I think that really helps us a lot.”

The two rivals could meet again in the Division III district tournament. It’s a matchup both would be open to seeing.

“That would be fun game to play,” Baker said.

Aldridge agreed.

“We still think that we can compete with them,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll see them down in the tournament trail.”