LIBERTY - Newton Falls girls basketball coach Mark Baker is an intense guy.
He yells, stomps, makes comedic hand gestures and even joins in during the pre-game warmup - running along the sideline and hollering in his players' faces as they pass the ball around minutes before the game.
"It's something I did one year, and the kids really liked it," said Baker of the pre-game routine. "I'll be the first to say that I'm their biggest fan. I know there's times where I get too emotionally involved in the game, where I'm cheering too much and should probably be looking at Xs and Os, but my kids will yell at me when I get too quiet that they need to hear me. They feed off the intensity. They like the style we play. They like the intensity."
They sure enjoyed it Thursday.
Newton Falls used an aggressive rebounding approach to dominate the boards and pull away from Liberty, 59-30, in an All-American Conference, National Division clash.
As both teams struggled to generate offense early on, it was offensive rebounding that keyed a first-half run by the Tigers (7-1, 3-0). Brooke Barreca was the main culprit. The Tigers junior forward recorded team highs in rebounds (16) and points (18). She scored 16 in the first half and helped Newton Falls take a 27-12 lead at the break. The majority of her scoring came from offensive rebounds. She used good positioning under the basket and constant effort to collect missed shots by her teammates and convert them into points.
"That is one thing that we really work on hard in practice," she said. "We focus on rebounding, so that we get those second-chance opportunities. We try to be very intense about rebounding. That's always one of our favorite times during practice."
Not too surprisingly, Baker said the Tigers play a heavy metal song at practice during their rebounding session to liven up the atmosphere. They certainly looked active against the Leopards (2-9, 0-4), who played solid defense most of the night but were hampered by Newton Falls' 45-27 rebounding edge and an offense that couldn't find rhythm.
Liberty shot just 10 of 47 (21 percent) from the floor, but the Leopards stayed close with a solid zone defense. The lack of scoring eventually caught up to them, especially when the Tigers employed a press defense that included double-teaming Leah Leshnack, Liberty's leading scorer this season, who finished with just eight points.
"They really hurt us on the boards," said Liberty coach Ron DeJulio, who also pointed to the Leopards' 18 turnovers as a reason for the loss. "And we've got to be able to shoot better. Right now we're not a very good shooting team, and when Leah Leshanck's not on, we're in trouble because she's our go-to person."