BOARDMAN – With the All-American Conference title on the line, the Boardman Spartans girls’ basketball team relied on defense, team rebounding, and a senior captain to escape with a hard-fought 56-44 overtime victory over the Fitch Falcons on Saturday afternoon.
After the two teams had battled to a 40-40 tie at the end of regulation, it was the Spartans senior guard Mackenzie Riccitelli who seemed to come alive in the extra session as she scored 10 of her game-high 28 points to help her team pull away from the Falcons with a 16-4 run in overtime.
“Going into overtime, we already had the momentum, and we weren’t going to let up. We were going to fight to the end,” Riccitelli said. “If I’m not scoring, I’m helping to get my teammates open. It’s about staying composed, staying focused and not getting frustrated.”
“Mackenzie is a very good player — one of the top two or three players in the area,” Falcons head coach Dan Horacek said. “She took over in the overtime and we just didn’t have an answer in the overtime period.”
“Every team does what Fitch did to us tonight. They face guard right away, and they take her (Riccitelli) away and dare someone else to beat you,” Spartans head coach Jeff Hammerton added. “We didn’t do anything different in overtime, we just made the shots. We ran the same plays, but Mackenzie hit the three to start the overtime.”
The game featured nine lead changes with neither team being able to lead by more than four points by the end of the third quarter. When Dasiyia Donlow scored a basket at the 7:16 mark of the fourth quarter, Fitch held a game-high five-point lead in the contest.
Incredibly, the game was almost an instant replay of the first encounter between the two teams as the Falcons led by the same score of 40-37 with under a minute left in the contest.
And just like in that game, Riccitelli was fouled late with a chance to tie things up. She would hit one of the three shots from the charity line like before. However, this time, Spartans forward Sarah Bero grabbed the rebound and put it in for a basket with 35 seconds remaining in the game to knot it up at 40-40.
“She (Riccitelli) missed two again, which is very unlike her. She is over an eighty percent free-throw shooter. She is at the line right where we want her to be. But even though she missed the free throws, we found a way to get the rebound, and we found a way for Sarah Bero to tie the game. That was so big,” Hammerton said.
“I thought when we went into overtime, it was going to be hard for us to maintain our momentum. I feel that a team that has momentum going into overtime, it becomes more in their favor. I thought they had the momentum going into overtime,” Horacek added.
With the victory, the Spartans improved to 13-4 overall on the season and 5-1 in the All-American Conference. They are now on a five-game winning streak.
“This game gets us into the driver’s seat where we control our destiny. But we have been controlling our own destiny since we lost to Fitch because we knew if we could keep winning, we could finish 7-1 in the conference,” Hammerton said.
“Obviously, you want to win every AAC game, but this game meant just that much more. Every team has played each other, and everyone has losses, so any win that you can get is huge,” Riccitelli added.
The loss drops the Falcons to 11-6 on the year and 3-3 in the league. It is also their third in a row since they beat the Spartans two weeks ago.
“Our kids really fought hard tonight,” Horacek stated. “I told them that I was so proud of them. I was proud of their effort. Some shots that we usually make just didn’t fall at critical times in the basketball game.”
The first half of the contest was a see-saw battle throughout as the Spartans held a 13-9 advantage after the first quarter. But the Falcons would go on an 8-0 run to start the second frame to hold a 17-13 lead with just under 5 minutes remaining in the period. However, it was the Spartans who would nurse a slim 1-point lead heading into the halftime locker rooms at 26-25.
The Falcons staunch defense held the Spartans to only 2 points in the third period, with Kylie Folkwein scoring just a minute into the stanza to give the Falcons a 27-26 lead. By the time Kaelyn Bower knocked down a bucket and one, the Falcons held a 32-28 advantage which they held at the close of the quarter.
“My kids are disappointed in tonight, but I know that they will keep fighting,” Horacek remarked. “I’m just proud of the kids.”
The Falcons will be back in action again on Wednesday night when they host Howland in another key All-American Conference encounter. The Spartans will return to the court on Monday night when they play at East in a non-conference tilt.
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