NORTH CANTON — New Lexington coach Jay Chadwell was well in tune with the competition his team was facing at the Hoover Lady Vikings Classic.
His Panthers, coming off a dominant win at Tri-Valley just before Christmas, were no doubt leaving their comfort zone with games against Pennsylvania powers Mount Lebanon and Beaver Falls Blackhawk.
Mount Lebanon, from the Pittsburgh area, was the big school runner-up last season and still unbeaten, while Blackhawk claimed the 4A title.
The Panthers were on the wrong end of a pair of double-digit losses in both games, falling 57-42 to hot-shooting Mount Lebanon on Wednesday and 61-37 to Blackhawk on Thursday.
The losses dropped the Panthers, still unbeaten and alone atop the Muskingum Valley League-Small School Division, to 9-2 with the second half of the season starting next Wednesday against Morgan.
These losses proved there is still progress to be made.
“I think playing teams that we knew that were ranked in other states, state champions, I think that it was a big mental test for us,” New Lex senior Trinity Cook said. “It’s eye-opening to see their athletic abilities and just be able to mentally prepare for that in the future, teams like (Proctorville) Fairland in the future, I think it’s going to prepare us for that. We’re just going to have to turn it up and start preparing now.”
In both games, but especially against Blackhawk’s array of presses, the Panthers struggled to get into half-court offense consistently. That led to turnovers and transition points in a 29-point first quarter for the Cougars (7-0) that all but decided the game.
It was the same run-and-jump approach that Lebanon used one night earlier, with similar results. Blackhawk took their defensive prowess a step further, however, switching in their half-court man-to-man defense with all five players, something used frequently by high level teams.
“We did our due diligence with our scouting,” Chadwell said. “Both teams ran their run-and-jump, which gave us trouble, so we had to make sure fine-tuned that. When it comes down to it we had to have kids that want to make consistent plays. We have kids that can make plays, but we’ve got to have kids that want to be consistent with it. I think this week was a good test and a good showing that our kids need to wake up and be able to do that.”
The Panthers’ litany of turnovers and inability to establish its offense was a toxic mix that showed on the scoreboard. Aside from slippery 5-4 point guard Kassie Potts, no Blackhawk player stood less than 5-6 — most of their regulars were at least 5-8.
“Obviously after they punched us in the mouth early, hanging up that 29, we kind of questioned our ability instead of playing through the adversity,” Chadwell said. “But that’s why we came up here. That’s why we play in these kind of tournaments.
“We have to see competition from outside of the state,” Chadwell added. “They won the state championship last year and Mount Lebanon (on Wednesday) was runner-up, so we played quality, well-coached teams. You have to get outside of your realm to see good, quality competition.”
Unlike the Lebanon game, when the the Panthers led 16-11 after a quarter before being outscored 35-12 in the second and third, they never got settled in against the Cougars. Aside from their active defense, which denied most post entries, Blackhawk also outhustled the Panthers on the glass.
Chadwell said game footage will tell the full story.
“Most teams we can jump over top of,” Chadwell said. “We couldn’t do that against this team and we didn’t box out. That’s something we have to do a better job of.”
“You give up 29 in the first quarter and that’s a lot,” Chadwell said. “You’ve got to be able to weather the storm there and give yourself a chance to battle back.”
Chadwell said the competition his team faced at Hoover will be better than any it will face the rest of the regular season, and he hopes his girls take the losses and translate it into a positive for future games.
Senior guard Aubri Spicer, the Findlay signee who had a team-high 15 points, said the team should be humbled by the results of these games. Freshman Chloe Dick had eight points against Blackhawk, but no other Panther had more than six.
New Lex, which trailed 39-21 at halftime, never got closer than 16 points after Abby Wilson’s 3 in the second quarter. The Panthers trailed 49-21 after an 8-0 Cougar run to start the second half.
“I think it showed that we’re a great team, but there is so much more that we need to improve on,” Spicer said. “I think it was kind of a slap in the face, telling us that we need to toughen up and keep grinding, because there are bigger things out there than the MVL, league play and the sectional. Once we get (deep into the tournament), teams are going to look like that. (Blackhawk) is a great team.”
Quinn Borroni, a 5-10 wing, had a game-high 17 points and 5-9 guard Alena Fusetti added 10 for Blackhawk, which hit on only three 3-pointers but had 10 players score. That duo combined for 39 points in a 59-39 win against host Hoover on Wednesday.
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