Lakers shake off bad start to upend Gray-NG on Senior Night

SQUEEZED — Laker senior guard Sydney Hancock tries to fight through Gray-NG players Stephanie Greaton (left) and Haylee Cote during the regular season finale last Thursday. The top-ranked Lakers will face #8 Freeport in the Class B West quarterfinals this Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 8:30 p.m. at the Portland Expo. Freeport defeated #9 Maranacook to advance. (Rivet Photo)

SQUEEZED — Laker senior guard Sydney Hancock tries to fight through Gray-NG players Stephanie Greaton (left) and Haylee Cote during the regular season finale last Thursday. The top-ranked Lakers will face #8 Freeport in the Class B West quarterfinals this Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 8:30 p.m. at the Portland Expo. Freeport defeated #9 Maranacook to advance. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Emotion can be a tricky element, especially when it involves high school athletes.

It can deflate or motivate.

It can cause tension or relaxation.

It can bring forth doubt or exude confidence.

Lake Region experienced the full rollercoaster of emotions last Thursday night as six players were honored on Senior Night.

Gray-New Gloucester, however, nearly spoiled the occasion as the Patriots led the game for three quarters only to watch their upset bid fall victim to a determined Laker comeback.

Junior Tiana-Jo Carter turned the tide, scoring a game-high 19 points while collecting 18 rebounds and blocking 5 shots as the top-ranked Lakers (16-2) rallied for a 48-41 victory at Nutting Gymnasium.

With a revamped starting line-up — all seniors — the Lakers fell behind the charged up Patriots 9-2. Gray-NG (13-5) shot the ball extremely well from the outside as Haylee Cote and Michele Dehetre each buried 3-point shots. Cote’s steal, lay-up and free throw put Gray-NG up 16-5 with 3 minutes to go in the first quarter.

LR settled down behind seniors Sydney Hancock’s 3-pointer and two inside hoops by Kelsey Winslow to make it 21-12.

“We came out and fell behind right away. I told our team we needed to pick it up right now,”  Carter said. “Coach told us we needed to rebound, so I went after every ball without fouling.”

Carter was a force during the Laker comeback in the second. She dominated the inside, especially after Patriot forward Maria Valente picked up her third foul and was forced to the bench. Carter hauled down 6 rebounds and scored 8 points on offensive putbacks as the Lakers closed the gap to 25-24.

The Patriots regained some momentum in the closing minute as Sammie Wilkins knocked down a jumpshot and Cote swished a pull-up jumper in the lane for a 30-24 Patriot lead at the half.

“It was expected, a little bit. Senior Night is difficult emotionally. So, step on the floor with everything that is going on and knowing it is your last home game is not easy. I am so proud of the fact that these kids — and everyone that has gone through the program — has bought into the fact that no one plays harder than we do for 32 minutes. It’s not 6 minutes. It’s not 16 minutes. It’s 32,” LR Coach Paul True said.

Effort and emotion brought the Lakers back. Defensively, the Lakers picked it up a notch and created turnovers and tempo over the final 4 minutes of the third quarter. Sarah Hancock swished a mid-range jumper, Sydney Hancock rolled in a soft flip shot in the lane and Winslow out worked Gray’s frontline to haul in an offensive rebound and scored on a follow-up.

Like that, the Lakers were down just 36-34 entering the final eight minutes.

Those 8 belonged to the Lakers, at both ends of the court.

Senior Savannah Devoe made just one shot on the night, but it proved to be a game changer. Devoe drilled a 3-pointer to start the final quarter, triggering a 7-0 run to put her club ahead 41-36.

“One of the successes tonight was going with a little bigger line-up. I’ve been getting on Kelsey (Winslow) and Savannah (Devoe) a little bit about attacking and getting to the rim. Savannah answered the call. The shot she hit was just awesome. She just caught and shot without thinking about it. Huge moment for a senior,” Coach True said. “You never know when opportunity is going to knock on your door. We stress every day that you need to prepare to open that door. Tonight, Savannah did that.”

Gray-NG was held scoreless for the first 3 minutes until Valente drained a straight-away trey. The Patriots struggled mightily against an aggressive Laker defense, which did not allow another G-NG field goal until 9.5 seconds left in the game.

Meanwhile, that same LR aggressiveness was seen at the other end as Carter, Winslow and Devoe pounded the boards to gain their team second and third shot opportunities. Carter had six rebounds and three blocked shots.

“Coach keeps emphasizing to Kelsey and I that we need to make strong moves to the basket and go into defenders. We tend to fade away too much. I think we’re improving,” Carter said.

Carter came up with a huge offensive rebound off a missed foul shot. Her score made it 44-39. The Patriots then tossed the ball away. Carter again came up with another offensive rebound off a missed foul shot, and connected on a pair of free throws to put the game on ice.

“It (our defense) wears on people. We know that the game is full of ebbs and flows. We will have opportunities that we can put some points up on the board quickly. The kids just fight — fight the whole time,” Coach True said. “I thought everybody did a great job maintaining their composure. We went down 11 or 12 at one point. There was no panic. We didn’t start doing things that we’re not accustomed to do. Kids showed a lot of poise.”

Carter felt the hard-fought game fully prepares the Lakers for the upcoming tournament.

“I don’t think we ever like being down, but it can be a good thing because it made our teamwork harder. It made us aware that we just can’t enter a game and think we have it won. We need to put all our effort into it — each time we’re out there,” she said. “I love that everybody is into the game. We’re almost healthy, and if we keep playing the way we have been, we’re going to do great in the tournament.”

Coach True shares that optimism as the Lakes prepare for their quarterfinal game this coming Tuesday.

“I really feel good about our mindset and our health right now. At the same time, we’re not satisfied with what we’ve done to this point. I am looking forward to the tournament,” he said. “The kids know better not to be overconfident. That’s not what we’re about. We want to make each other better every single day. If we continue to approach our business that way, then I am going to be very satisfied.”

After a long, grinding season that saw the Lakers battle injuries, it is time for a little rest and relaxation before it is back to work to defend the West title.

“We’ve gone back and forth on this for the past two weeks, and believe that a little rest and relaxation will do this squad some good,” Coach True said. “We have plenty of leadership on the team that we’re not going to have any letdowns.”

Game Stats

For the Lakers, Winslow scored 10 points, Sydney Hancock had 9 points, Sarah Hancock 3, Miranda Chadbourne 2 and CeCe Hancock 2.

For Gray, Cote, Dehetre and Stephanie Greaton each had 8 points, Valente 6, Julia Martell 4, Sammie Wilkins 3, Zoe Adams 2, Grace Ferguson 1.

Rebounds: LR 36, GNG 19.

Free Throws: LR 7-12, GNG 6-12.

Turnovers: LR 11, GNG 17.




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