Lake Region girls tourney preview

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#3 Lake Region (16-2) vs. #6 Oak Hill (12-6)

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2 p.m.

Portland Expo

Tickets: $7 for adults, $4 for students.

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Lake Region enters the quarterfinal game riding a seven-game win streak (9-1 down the stretch), including tight wins over Greely as well as a road victory at Gray-New Gloucester. Coach Paul True hoped to see his young squad steadily improve as the season progressed — and they have. Did the coach expect 16 wins?

“Before the season, you always talk about predictions. If we went 14-4, I would have been pretty happy. Now, I’m disappointed that we didn’t go 17-1,” Coach True said. “I’m very pleased and enthusiastic about the season we’ve had and how these girls have come together. It’s a real tribute to the kids’ work ethic.”

The Lakers were 15-5 a year ago and had to replace the entire starting line-up. Not only did they exceed a veteran group’s win total, this Laker team returned to a formula that catapulted them to three state title runs — balance on offense, and a suffocating defense.

The Lakers averaged 47.3 points per game, led by freshman center Tianna-Jo Carter (182 points, 10.1 points per game) and sophomore point guard Sydney Hancock (161 points, 8.9 ppg). Carter is a force inside, recording double-digit rebounds while also blocking a handful of shots each night. Hancock is the team’s floor leader, bringing intensity at both ends of the court. She led the team in 3-point shots made (21).

The Lakers found good balance offensively, both in their approach and scoring. Coach True emphasized getting the ball inside first, where Carter, Hannah Cutting (101 points, 5.6 ppg) and Kelsey Winslow (74 points, 7.4 ppg) created havoc. Winslow came on strong after an early season high ankle sprain, including a 12-point night in Lake Region’s season finale win at Greely, which cemented the third seed.

If the opposing defense collapses to deal with the LR frontline, the Laker guards can make them pay. The Lakers received solid contributions from Abby Craffey (101 points, 6.7 ppg) and Allison Clark (66 points, 6.6 ppg). Craffey knocked down 19 three-pointers and Clark 15 as the team combined for 65 treys. Clark is slowly returning from a knee injury, which sidelined her down the stretch.

But, the key to the Lakers’ overall success has been its defense. Thirty-two minutes of in-your-shirt pestering. Along with Hancock, the Lakers bring tenacious defenders Kasey Huntress and Rachel Wandishin. LR allowed 32.1 points per game, allowing opponents to score 40 or more points just three times all season.

Oak Hill (located in Wales) makes its first tourney appearance in several years after just missing the cut the past couple of seasons. Under second-year coach Tom Morong, the Raiders improved from 9-9 to 12-6 behind the play of senior 5-11 forward Maggie Sabine. Capable of scoring inside as well as firing up 3-pointers, Sabine averaged over 18 points per game and eclipsed the 1,000-point mark this season. Sabine has a good supporting cast that includes senior 5-foot-6 guard Abby Goulet and 5-foot-6 junior Jessica Roberts, as well as 5-foot-8 sophomore forward Chassidy Hilchey. Other players to watch include junior 5-foot-6 guard Darby Beaulieu and 5-foot-6 sophomore guard Gabby Green.

“Sabine is one of the top players in the state, and poses some concerns for us. She will be our focal point defensively,” Coach True said. “Oak Hill, however, is not a one-horse show. You need to account for the other players as well. We’ll need to be on our game.”

What to expect: Oak Hill averaged 47.1 points per game (848), so one key will be for the Lakers to bring their “A” game on defense. It is unlikely that the Raiders have seen the type of defense the Lakers will bring, which could rattle a team that lacks playoff experience.

Speaking of experience, Coach True believes his team will be ready for the prime time limelight.

“We have some players on this team that did play meaningful minutes in the playoffs last year, and other players who have been around to know what it is all about,” he said. “Because of our playoff tradition, some kids that may not have been on the team have seen what it is like. I feel good about where we are right now as a team.”

And, Coach True believes the Lakers have an ace in their pocket — their fans.

“Over the years, our fan base has always played a huge part in the team’s success,” he said. “We’re hoping that will continue.”

If the Lakers stay balanced and get into a comfort zone offensively, they can pile up points against the Raiders. Oak Hill allowed 787 points (43.7 ppg), including two 75-point games against Leavitt and 58 points to Medomak Valley.

Who’s next: The winner meets either #2 Leavitt or #7 Cape Elizabeth. The Hornets are the West’s highest scoring club, scoring regularly in the 70s while also reaching 93 and 95 points.

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