AUSTINTOWN – When it comes to basketball, size does matter.
And size helped the No. 2 state ranked Ravenna Southeast Lady Pirates win their first tournament game in nine years.
A frontcourt that features three girls over 6-foot-0 tall, was dominant enough for Southeast to defeat Cortland Lakeview in the first round of the Division II district tournament, 72-41.
The inside trio of seniors Nikki Murphy and Lindsay Speidel, and junior Mya Levels, together out-rebounded Lakeview themselves, 27-22, and were able to set the tone of the game on both ends of the floor.
After a sloppy first few minutes, the size advantage for Southeast was able to slant the game in their favor all in one motion. A blocked shot by Levels turned into a Southeast fast break that was finished off with a three point shot by Erikka Coontz. This play helped send the Pirates off and running to a 16-1 start. Levels herself had four blocks in the first quarter, helping keep Lakeview without a field goal until 1:03 left in the first.
Levels finished the game only three blocked shots shy of a triple-double, scoring 24 points, pulling in 13 rebounds and blocking seven shots.
“She changes the game,” said Southeast head coach Dave Tasker about his junior’s efforts. “She’s a game changer. It allows us to get out and pressure the wings and do a lot of things on the perimeter, because we have that human eraser behind us.”
The hot start also stemmed from Coach Tasker’s game plan of attacking Lakeview’s star senior Joanna Novotny. Although Novotny scored a team high 13 points, in what turned out to be the final game of her high school career, she was never able to get into a consistent rhythm, due mostly to playing in foul trouble for the better part of the game.
“We wanted to force (Novotny) to have to go inside and guard some of our bigs and try and try and get her in foul trouble,” explained Coach Tasker. “I think that was the turning point in the first half. We were able to get a couple of early fouls on her and she wasn’t able to play as aggressive as she wanted, and also make her work on both sides of the floor so she wouldn’t have her legs in the fourth quarter.”
It took until the final minute of the first quarter for Lakeview to finally settle in. A running three point shot by Jordan St. Clair as the buzzer sounded cut the lead 16-6. Lakeview hit two quick baskets in the second quarter to trim the lead down to six, but the Pirates responded by outscoring Lakeview 21-6 the rest of the quarter, including the final ten points before halftime to stretch the lead out to 37-16 at the break.
Putting together the second quarter run was mostly done by Levels and Speidel. Between cleaning the glass on both sides of the floor, attacking the inside, and getting to the foul line, the duo proved to be nearly unstoppable. The two accounted for 15 of the 21 second quarter Southeast points. When either of them would get the ball in the paint, it seemed they would either score or get fouled. Sometimes both.
The foul line proved to be kind to the Lady Pirates as they had as many foul shots made by halftime (12), as Lakeview attempted the entire game. Southeast finished the game 28-for-36 from the foul line, while Lakeview was only 6-for-12.
For most of the game, you couldn’t tell if the game was being played in Austintown or Ravenna, as a good portion of the Southeast faithful filled up their side of the bleachers.
“Our community has been outstanding and every game it grows,” said an appreciative Coach Tasker. “For being the first game of the sectional as the two seed we’re expected to come in and take care of business. A lot of times people don’t jump on the bandwagon until a little later in the tournament run, but our community and especially our student body, I can’t say enough about them.”
Nearing games end, you could hear the student body loudly chanting “Underrated”. Across the state, although Southeast is ranked second by the associated press, you seldom hear the now 21-0 Lady Pirates’ name mentioned among state title contenders. Now that they have gotten the monkey off their back by winning their first tournament game since 1999, the Lady Pirates are relaxed and ready to focus on what should be a long post season run.