Laker girls shake off ragged 1st half

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

AHEAD OF A KNIGHT — Following a steal, Lake Region freshman Sarah Hancock races up the court as a Poland player gives chase last Friday night. (Rivet Photo)

Sydney Hancock and her Laker teammates like to turn a basketball game into a sprint.

Sometimes, overdrive can cause problems.

Turnovers and poor free throw shooting had the Lake Region offense sputtering in the first half in the season opener last Friday against Poland, but Abby Craffey led a balanced attack by scoring a game-high 12 points in a 48-26 victory over the Knights.

Although Lake Region received early season praise from newspaper writers as one of the teams to beat in Class B West, Poland showed no signs of being intimidated. In fact, the Knights were aggressive, gritty and energized, especially on the defensive end where they drew two charging calls against the Lakers to start the game.

The Knights contested every shot, were stingy about giving up space inside the lane, and bumped LR’s big people, especially center Tiana-Jo Carter (just 2 points in the first half) off their spots. The end result: a ragged first eight minutes offensively for the Lakers who were 2-of-7 from the foul line and who misfired on several lay-up chances, while committing eight turnovers.

“It was a great atmosphere for the first game of the season. The kids were going 100 mph. We didn’t take time to just take a deep breath and settle down out there. The first 3 to 4 minutes were not good,” said Laker varsity girls’ basketball coach Paul True. “We missed some easy basket opportunities, and we shot poorly from the foul line. It’s all about mental concentration. In practice, we’ve shot about 1,600 free throws. There is no reason to shoot that poorly with the kids we have.”

Guard Sydney Hancock agreed. “There was a lot of emotion. We were trying to do everything too fast. We want to be fast, but we also need to be under control. It took awhile for us to get back into our game and calm down,” she said. “We have problems at times making decisions on fast breaks. If we look for teammates, we know we will get the ball right back. Too many times, we had people trying to go up the floor by themselves. We need to keep our heads up, look for teammates and get easy transition points.”

With the first team struggling, Coach True went to his bench in hopes the reserves could be the spark the Lakers needed.

“We needed some mental focus. Some kids were doing things that were out of character,” he said. “We’re deep and some kids came off the bench and did a good job.”

One problem Poland had was scoring. Despite their hard work, the Knights managed just two buckets — a baseline jumper by Kat Seeley to give the Knights their only lead, 2-0, at 5:19 and an inside score by Kayla Yirrell.

Despite their struggles, the Lakers held a 12-4 lead after one behind 3-pointers from Sydney Hancock and Abby Craffey, and a 3-point play by Rachel Wandishin.

In the second quarter, Lake Region’s own pressure forced 11 Poland turnovers as the Knights managed just one field goal while going 4-of-5 from the foul line. LR gained a little rhythm offensively as Allison Clark and Sydney Hancock each drained 3-pointers, while Kelsey Winslow scored the team’s last four points for a 24-10 halftime lead.

“It was a little quiet at first, and then we got an intense talk,” Hancock said. “What coach does well is that he will tell us what we’re doing wrong, but also encourage us. That’s what we needed.”

LR players heard those words loud and clear. The Lakers blitzed Poland with an 11-0 run as six different players scored, including a 3-pointer by Craffey. LR could have extended that spurt, but again, free throw shooting was an adventure — 4-of-12.

“Brutal,” was how Hancock viewed the team’s foul shooting. “Foul shots often win big games, so we need to do a better job. It’s all mental. We were just overwhelmed by all the people here that we didn’t handle the pressure well. We just need to calm down and focus. We definitely need to learn to keep our poise.”

Down 35-10, Michaella Arsenault (9 points, 14 rebounds) finally broke the scoreless spell for Poland with 1:58 left in the third.

Laker reserve Kate Cutting made her presence felt by draining two jumpshots, one a 3-pointer, to close out the quarter with LR up 40-15.

After committing 15 turnovers in the first half, the Lakers did a much better job handling the ball over the final 24 minutes. Despite several line-up changes, the Lakers committed just five turnovers, while Poland had 12.

After Craffey knocked down a straight-away 3-pointer for a 43-17 lead with 7:42 left in the game, the Lakers would score the rest of their points from the foul line. Reserve Savannah Devoe would help bolster the final free throw shooting percentage by going 3-of-4.

Meanwhile, the Knights reached double-digit scoring for the first time (11) behind Arsenault’s 6 points. Poland was 7-of-10 from the foul line.

Opening Night was revealing for the Lakers and the coaching staff.

“We can’t take any game for granted. We know that on any given night, a team can beat another, so we need to come out strong and play our game,” Hancock said. “If we want to win a title this year, we have to approach every game as a big game. It’s a learning opportunity for us.”

And what did Coach True learn and see?

First off, he wants to see better play from his post players. As expected, center Tiana-Jo Carter saw plenty of double and triple teams.

“Tiana needs to work harder for position. She can’t allow people to push her eight feet away from the basket, that’s what she is going to see all year long. I thought she did a better job in the second half working and establishing position,” Coach True said. “If Tiana doesn’t start in a low stance, she is always going to be off balance. We’ve been working on that, but until it becomes habit, she is going to get knocked around a little bit.”

What did Coach True like?

“I saw a lot of unselfish play. I liked the way Kelsey (Winslow) and Tiana played in the third quarter. I’d like to see them play with that kind of intensity from here on out,” Coach True said. “Any time you don’t play well but win by that kind of margin, I can’t be too disappointed.”

From the Stat Sheet

Free Throws: Lakers 13-36, Poland 12-20

Turnovers: Lakers 20, Poland 30

Rebounds: Lakers 40 (Carter 10, Craffey 6, Wandishin 5, VanLoan 4, Devoe 4), Poland 32 (Arsenault 14, Yirrell 5, Bolduc 5, Lavoie 4)

3-Pointers: LR, Clark, Craffey (3), Cutting, Sy. Hancock, Wandishin; Poland 0

Lake Region: Allison Clark 1-1-4, Tiana-Jo Carter 2-0-4, Abby Craffey 4-1-12, Kate Cutting 2-1-6, Savannah Devoe 0-3-3, Sydney Hancock 1-2-5, Shannon VanLoan 0-1-1, Rachel Wandishin 3-1-8, Kelsey Winslow 1-3-5, Kasey Huntress, Sarah Hancock, Jordan Turner, Kayleigh Lepage.

Poland: Michaella Arsenault 4-3-11, Emily Bolduc 2-6-10, Melora Lavoie 0-2-2, Kat Seeley 1-0-2, Kayla Yirrell 0-1-1.

Contribution to Fund. Before Friday night’s contest, the Laker and Knights girls’ basketball teams met at center court for a group photo. Both clubs sported pink — a sign of support for the American Cancer Society. Contributions that night resulted in a check for $347 to ACS.

Up next: The Lakers travel to Waynflete tonight, Dec. 15, for a 5:30 p.m. game. The Lakers host Freeport on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 4 p.m. and travel to Gray-New Gloucester on Tuesday, Dec. 20 for a 5:30 p.m. contest.

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