POLAND – When there’s an opportunity to gain some last-minute credibility with the tournament just on the horizon, you should take it.
For Howland, entering Monday night’s contest was no small task, especially after a heartbreaking loss to Canfield on Saturday at home for a share of the AAC title and now having to travel to Poland, a traditional powerhouse that has entered the night with a 17-2 record.
Consider the challenge accepted by the Tigers, who used an early lead mixed with a balanced score with five double-digit players scoring wisely to secure a 66-52 road victory over the Bulldogs.
Starting on a 10-0 run is always a favorite way to start a night, but bouncing back mentally after a tough weekend was even more important for Howland (15-6).
“The way these girls came out and put this game behind them, and responded tonight was just amazing,” said Tigers coach Aaron Pounds “Well done to them, I’m very proud of them.”
A pair of three-pointers from Taylor Lawrence (11 points) helped set the tempo early, as Howland hit four threes in the first quarter where he led 22-8 and held Poland to three field goals, including the first came on a Mary Brant trey down the left side of the arc at the 2:10 mark in the quarter.
The strong shooting performance didn’t slow down in the second period as an Alyssa Massucci (12-point) three prompted a timeout for Poland after an 8-0 run to start the quarter. Howland eventually took a 43-23 lead into the locker room.
Poland (17-3) weren’t ready to go out without a swing as they began to find some success in the post, with Katie McDonald and Connie Cougras helping to lead the Bulldogs’ charge, eventually cutting the lead to 13 points at 43-30.
Lawrence finally wrapped up the Tigers’ drought with a pair of free throws at 3:33, which was soon followed by a Kylie McClain (13 points) and -1. Fellow senior Alyssa Pompelia scored six of her 13 points in the fourth quarter to help secure the victory for the visiting Tigers, with Jamie DeSalvo adding 12 points.
Having a balanced score is what opens the eyes to Howland’s offense.
“Teams can’t just focus on one player in our squad because we all contribute to that,” said Pompelia. “I think it benefits us more and I think heading into the playoffs and our last regular season game (at Nordonia) it will help us a lot with our confidence as well.”
While having a big lead early in the basketball game helped, weathering Poland’s second-half storm was equally vital, but there are always lessons to be learned from having to deal with the adversity at the end of the year.
“We needed that momentum because we knew (Poland) could shoot the ball, we were shooting the ball very well in the first half,” McClain said. “They came back, we made runs, they made runs, we needed them especially for the playoffs, we have a tough game on Wednesday against Nordonia, hopefully we beat Madison in the tournament and then we could see Canfield again, so we needed that.”
Polish senior Morgan Kluchar finished with a game-high 15 points, with Abby Farber, McDonald and Brant scoring all eight.
With a Northeast-8 title under their belt, tournament preparation is underway, Bulldogs coach Nick Blanch is deliberately scheduling tough competition in the days leading up to the playoffs.
To be one of the best, you have to beat some of the best, but even after falling behind early, Blanch applauded his players’ effort in the second half.
“That’s what I’m most proud of, two things I can’t stand, the selfish and the sulky, I can’t stand it because neither are doing anything to help the team, so in my opinion, tonight we have shown that we are a real team” White said. “Everyone was cheering each other on, we kept playing no matter what the scoreboard said until the final buzzer.
“I’m just really proud of our seniors for leading the way like they did tonight, they led by example, they didn’t pout, nobody else did, and we played as well as we could It was just a slow start that got us there tonight but it happens.