MECCA — Seniors Marissa Ventura and Baylie Starcher continue to do it all for Maplewood.
The Rockets’ two leading scorers this season are both capable of scoring outside and inside, they defend, rebound and create with the ball.
Ventura, who set the school record for most career points earlier this season, and Starcher combined for 27 points Monday night to lead the Rockets to a 48-31 win over Mathews.
“They have the experience and they really work well together,” Maplewood head coach Stephanie Pykare said. “Their experience paces the team. The team looks to them in a very obvious way. When they’re struggling, we’re struggling. So there’s a huge emphasis on consistency from the team, but especially from them, just to make sure that we get it done on a nightly basis.”
A key part of Maplewood’s success this season has been the duo’s ability to play off of one another, according to Pykare. While one controls the ball, the other typically gets open for a shot or they help create a look for a teammate.
That was evident against the Mustangs, particularly on one possession late in the game when Ventura brought the ball up the floor, passed to Starcher and the pair ran a give-and-go that pulled a help defender out of the paint and freed up Hannah Gaylog for an easy layup down low.
After an 18-point outburst in the first quarter, catalyzed by 11 from Ventura, Maplewood’s offense went stagnant in the second quarter. It took the Rockets 4:20 to score their first points of the period — a long Abbey Nay two-point jumper — and they only managed four points in the period. Nay finished with 10 points for Maplewood.
“I’ve started calling it ‘chill mode,’” Pykare said. “We start just relaxing too much and we lose that intensity. Timeouts need to be called here and there. I try to run plays that we know can give us a quick hit, something to give us a quick look. Then, we continue to emphasize offensive rebounds to try to get those second chances. We just have to weather the storm and work through it.”
Mathews couldn’t take advantage of the scoring drought though, only registering five points of its own during the second quarter and trailed 22-13 at halftime.
“They made shots and we didn’t,” Mathews head coach Stephen Sponsler said. “We don’t finish and that’s been our story all year. We play pretty good defense and we make it pretty hard for people to score on us, but we just get looks and we don’t finish.”
However, Mathews picked things up in the second half — causing a brief scare for Maplewood as the Mustangs cut the lead down to five in the third quarter. Bella Greenwood and Brooke Bauer paced Mathews with 11 points each.
“We just had more intensity,” Sponsler said. “We came out flat in the first quarter and it didn’t help that we were getting in foul trouble right off the bat. We had seven fouls at one point in the first quarter, which definitely didn’t help. My girls got a little tentative because they didn’t want to foul anymore.”
“But I’m proud of my kids because normally we have a tendency to shut down when we get down and they didn’t — they fought,” Sponsler continued.
But, soon thereafter, the Rockets pushed their lead back to double digits and kept the Mustangs at arm’s length the rest of the way thanks to a 16-point fourth quarter.
Sponsler said his team is trending in the right direction, but they still have some work to do going forward.
“I’ve talked to my girls a lot about being mentally tough and I think tonight they showed a little mental toughness because they were able to battle back a little bit,” Sponsler said. “I know the score doesn’t look like that, but I think we battled back well and they played hard, so all-in-all, I’m pretty happy.”