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With conference title implications on the line even in mid-December, the matchup between the Orrville and West Holmes girls basketball teams lived up to the hype.
So did Laina Snyder.
The Knights' 6-foot-1 post scored 29 points, pulled down 18 rebounds and West Holmes held off Orrville 50-43 as last year's Div. II state runners-up led for all but two possessions in the opening minutes Saturday. Despite trailing for nearly the entire afternoon, the Red Riders (4-1, 2-1 Ohio Cardinal Conference) pulled within three and nearly tied the contest with a minute to go, but the Knights (7-0, 3-0) iced the game by draining 6-for-9 at the line in the waning seconds.
Like all great players do, Snyder, the reigning Daily Record Player of the Year and OCC POY, dominated late, scoring 16 of West Holmes' 28 second-half points.
"We knew we needed to get her the basketball," said West Holmes coach Lisa Patterson.
Hannah Plybon, a first-team All-Ohioan in her own right, scored Orrville's first five points to put OHS ahead 5-4, but from there West Holmes ran off the next 10 points thanks to a layup and free throw from Snyder, a 3-pointer from Rachelle Morrison and two field goals from Emily Molnar. After Plybon knocked down her first two tries to open the contest, the Red Riders missed their next 12 shots.
Orrville coach Mark Alberts Sr. said the biggest challenge against the two-time defending OCC champs is attacking their physical defenders.
"That's what they make you do," said Alberts. "They play such good defense and make it tough to score."
After jumping out to a nine-point advantage, it appeared that West Holmes might run Orrville right out of the gym. Alberts, however, knew that his team would eventually settle in.
"When we were down 14-5, I've seen (West Holmes) get up like that and win by 30," he said, "but I knew we were going to come back. We were too good for that to continue."
The Red Riders indeed mounted a rally, cutting the deficit to 22-16 at the half and pulling within 41-37 early in the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by Brianne Adcock, who finished with a team-high 14 points. On West Holmes' next possession, Snyder made the second of a pair at the line, but Maggie Davault answered by making both free throws. Snyder then went back to the stripe and made two more, but Trinniti Hall later came up with a steal and layup to again pull Orrville within one possession at 44-41.
Coming off a screen, Plybon, who finished with 13 points, had a good look from beyond the arc but the shot rimmed out and Snyder corralled the rebound, then making two free throws on the other end.
Patterson said the Knights' ability to get to the line after the intermission was the difference. On the day, West
Holmes was 17-for-24 on freebies, while Orrville was just 5-for-9.
"We didn't get there a whole lot in the first half," said Patterson, "because we settled for too many 3s. We needed to get in the paint -- if you can get to the paint, you can get to the free throw line."
The Red Riders simply had no one inside that could match up with Snyder. Alberts rotated the unenviable assignment among Shamaya Sims, Lauryn Wright, Adcock, Hall and Plybon, but it was usually Snyder that came up with the ball -- and the basket.
"She's a great player," said Alberts. "They will be as physical a team as we face all year. The key to playing them is withstanding their (physicality). They make it hard to run your stuff."
Alberts said balance is the key for the Knights.
"When you prepare for them, you have to stop Snyder, you have to guard their 3-point shooters and you have to rebound," he said. "Then you have to go down on the other end while they're wearing you like a glove."
Along with Snyder's prowess in the post, Paiten Strother's perimeter defense had a hand in her team's big day. Strother finished with just four points, but made her presence felt on the other end. The junior pulled down 12 defensive rebounds and shadowed Plybon all afternoon, allowing the Div. I recruit to shoot just 5-for-18 from the field.
"Paiten's defense was phenomenal," said Patterson. "We didn't deny her the basketball, but you can't give her an open look -- it has to be contested. Paiten knew her primary assignment today was to play defense."
Despite Strother's defense on Plybon, Orrville steadily fought back thanks to four 3-pointers from Adcock and a gutty effort from Davault, who finished with eight points and a team-high eight boards. Ultimately, though, the early deficit was too much to overcome against a team that makes its living on defense.
"You get down by nine against West Holmes, that's a hole," said Alberts.
Because both squads returned all five starters coming into the season, West Holmes and Orrville came into the season with high expectations, but West Holmes was looked at as the team to beat thanks to its season sweep over Orrville last winter as well as its deep tournament run.
"They've been (looked at) as the best team in the area, and until somebody beats them, they are," said Alberts.
On Saturday, despite a strong challenge from arguably the area's second-best squad, reality matched perception.