MECCA - Considering both teams having 1,000-point low-post scorers with the same first name (Newton Fall's Brooke Barreca and Maplewood's Brooke Dawson), a lot of emphasis was placed on the "Battle of the Brookes" before the Tigers' and Rockets' non-conference encounter at Oscar Grant Gymnasium.
Well, perhaps both teams placed a little too much focus on the two, as Dawson and Barreca didn't score a point in the first half and combined for 11 points by game's end. Dawson and the Rockets did gain the upperhand on Barreca and the Tigers, though, thanks to a stifling defensive effort in a 41-37 Maplewood win on Monday night.
"I'm extremely happy with our focus on defense," Maplewood coach Mark Yoder said. "We had a couple of breakdowns where the ball was bouncing around and it didn't go our way, where they get some easy buckets, but I can live with that, when they're getting a broken-play basket. I thought overall, for the length of the game, our defense really stepped up and did a really nice job."
Dave Dermer / Tribune Chronicle
Maplewood’s Brooke Dawson (44) dribbles between Newton Falls defenders Brooke Barreca, left, and Alissa?Abraham on Monday.
Going into the game, Dawson's main job was to keep Barreca in check, and she fulfilled that role well. Barreca scored her first point with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter on a foul shot and didn't record her first field goal until the 5:30 mark in the fourth when Courtney Platt got her the ball in the low post.
It was a team effort by the Rockets (9-1), who had Dawson front Barreca on the low post and then had some help-side defense in the form of players like forward Ryley Urchek or backup center Jordyn Patterson whenever the Tigers (8-2) tried to lob in a pass over the 5-foot-10 senior center.
"(Yoder) told me to follow (Barreca) the entire game and to shut her down," Dawson said. "I was kind of more focused on that this game. She really didn't have many points, so I thought I did what I had to do."
Dawson did play a role on offense early for Maplewood, filling in as point guard to start the game. It was the first time since the senior center was in fifth grade that she played point, and it showed, with the Rockets struggling against Newton Falls' press.
Yoder admitted the plan, which was to get Barreca away from the basket, didn't work. Maplewood didn't waste much time placing Miranda Sloan, who missed two practices prior to the game with an illness, onto the floor. Despite starting on the bench, Sloan led the Rockets with 15 points.
"I was extremely nervous all day," Dawson said of playing point. "I kept thinking about and people kept talking to me about it - it just made everything worse, but I had to do it, I guess. It was nice to have (Sloan) out there because she holds everything together, and it's weird not to have her out there."
Maplewood entered the final quarter with a 13-point advantage, but the Tigers went on a 14-3 run to pull within two after a Gabby Kline free throw with 1:30 left in the game. The Rockets stopped the comeback on the next possession, however, when Dawson lobbed in a pass to Urchek for a bucket, and the Rockets took care of business from the line to seal the win.
"It kind of looked like it was going to go back to the (Pymatuning Valley) game where we really fell apart in the fourth quarter," Yoder said, "but thankfully, we kept attacking and eventually got (the shots) to go."
Kline led the way for the Tigers, especially in the second half. The sophomore forward scored 14 of her game-high 16 points in the final 16 minutes. Newton Falls coach Mark Baker said she took advantage of Maplewood focusing on Barreca for much of the game.
"Any time that Brooke (Barreca) is being double-teamed like that, we need Gabby to make plays," Baker said. "Especially in the second half, I really thought she started to make some plays for us. So, I was happy with her performance."
The win continued Maplewood's unbeaten run through a tough non-conference schedule, which Yoder said should prepare the Rockets for the tournament.
"We've got a pretty tough schedule for a Division IV team, but I like those regular season games to be pretty competitive so that you get ready for a tournament run," Yoder said.