Lakers wear down York, 50-24, to advance to State Finals
By Wayne E. Rivet
PORTLAND — Even though her team had battled through a slow start and held a six-point lead at halftime, Tiana-Jo Carter expected better from herself and her team.
“We had the jitters early on, were a little bit hesitant. Then, we started forcing bad passes and taking shots that we didn’t need to take,” the Lake Region junior center said. “Coach kept telling us to ‘Calm down, calm down.’ After that, we were okay. Second half, we knew that if we didn’t start playing ‘our game,’ we weren’t going to win.”
Carter and her teammates turned to the winning formula that had propelled them to 18 wins and had dominated foes in the playoffs.
Wear them down with constant pressure from end line to end line.
Beat them up inside with guards beating their defenders off the dribble for lay-ups or a chance to dish off to top scorers Carter and senior forward Kelsey Winslow.
Limiting York to 5-of-11 shooting in the third quarter, the Lakers rode two Sydney Hancock 3-pointers and six points from Winslow inside to open a 16-point lead enroute to a convincing 50-24 thrashing of the second-seeded Wildcats (18-3) to win the Class B West title.
It was the Lakers’ fifth title in eight years, and advanced them to the state finals against undefeated Eastern champ Presque Isle this Friday night.
Carter, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, again was a game changer. She scored a game-high 14 points, controlled the boards with 16 rebounds and blocked three shots.
As has been the case all season, it was the Lakers’ defense, which turned the tide.
“Defensively, they just took us completely out of our game,” York Coach Rick Clark said. “They forced us to make bad decisions on the offensive end. We lost our way there for a long enough period of time where we couldn’t get back in the game. We had a lot of shots go in and out; it was just that kind of the day. They were the aggressor and they took us out of our game pretty quickly.”
No Wildcat reached double figures, while the low post combo of seniors Emily Campbell and Marquis MacGlashing combined for 4 points.
Certainly, the Lakers (19-2) were the aggressor in the paint all night, holding a 17-attempt edge in free throws — LR was 11-of-23, while the Cats were 0-for-6.
“It’s tough. McGlashing is a strong girl, and then I also have to contend with Campbell,” Carter said. “It’s tough in there. When they tried to push me, I had to fight back.”
Not to be outdone, the LR guards — the Hancock trio plus a few minutes from Kate Cutting and Miranda Chadboure — were equally as stingy. York’s senior captain Ruby Cribby managed just 4 points, while junior Anne Graziano scored 2 and was in foul trouble most of the night. York was led by freshman Shannon Todd, who netted 8 points.
“Normally, one of those three seniors have a good game and sometimes two of them do,” Clark said. ‘You have to give credit to Lake Region. They simply beat us.”
At first, it appeared York — who had been handed their only two losses of the regular season by the Lakers — had figured a way to challenged the top-ranked Lakers.
A zone defense led to the Lakers going 3-of-13. They were scoreless through the first 6 minutes and 13 seconds until Carter scored off an offensive rebound.
It was a small victory for the Wildcats, however, since they scored just 4 points. LR sophomore Sarah Hancock — who Coach Paul True had deemed an “unsung” hero through the playoffs — sank a 3-pointer to give the Lakers a 5-4 lead, a lead they would never surrender.
“I just thought that ball movement could have been better. We were attacking the defense. It wasn’t that we weren’t taking good shots. I just felt if we had made another pass, we could have gotten into our offense,” Coach True said. “In the second half, we did a lot better at that.”
Up 7-4, the Lakers started to take control of the game with a 7-0 run in the second quarter. Senior Kate Cutting came off the bench to spark the run, swishing a 3-pointer from the left corner to start the quarter.
“I really felt it (outside shooting) was going to be a key today. Katherine is just one of several unselfish kids on this team. She doesn’t play in the semifinals, and I knew York was going to start out in a 1-3-1 zone, so I knew Katherine was going to get into the game early, and she sticks a huge 3 for us. I am so proud of her,” Coach True said.
Sarah Hancock (11 points) followed suit with 4:01 left, connecting on a trey from the same corner to push the lead to 14-4.
As the outside game started to click, Coach True also encouraged his inside players to attack the rim. True yelled out to Winslow, “Take it right at her,” after his senior forward received the ball in the paint and quickly passed it back out to the perimeter.
“Kelsey is such an unselfish player. We talk a lot about inside-out, but I thought she was a little too quick to kick the ball back out and not look for her offense,” Coach True said. “I wanted her to attack the rim and take the ball right at their big players.”
Winslow heard her coach and responded with more aggressive play.
“I started thinking, ‘Kick it out, kick it out,’ especially when I’m playing against bigger people,” Winslow said. “Coach wanted me to go right at them, so I looked to do that more as the game went on.”
Up 14-8 at the half, the Lakers turned their entire game up a few notches in the third quarter. The offense hit full stride with Sarah Hancock, who logged more minutes with sister CeCe battling foul trouble, threading the needle with a perfectly placed long pass to Winslow for a fastbreak lay-up. Her hustle saved a possible turnover, and instead, flipped a pass to Sydney Hancock (9 points) for a 3-pointer and a 22-12 lead.
A Todd 3-pointer trimmed the lead to 24-17, but over a 1:25 the Lakers put up seven straight points — another Syd 3-pointer, a jumpshot in the lane by Winslow and a Carter hop off a well-placed lob pass from Winslow.
By the time the dust cleared at the end of the third quarter, the Lakers sensed they were on their way to the state finals.
They were right. Coach True teams never stop playing hard regardless if the lead is 4, 12 or 20. The Lakers continued to keep their foot on the pedal. They scored seven straight points to start the fourth quarter, while the Wildcats went scoreless until 4:29 on a Cribby inside shot. The Cats took plenty of shots (18), but could not convert (just 2 hoops in the fourth, scoring 5 points).
With York over the limit, the Lakers went to the foul line 10 times over the first 4 minutes of the fourth, making 6 attempts.
“Nobody scored 30 points against us in this tournament. So, we knew coming in that regardless of how many points we were going to score, we needed to play our game on defense for 32 minutes,” Coach True said.
Defense has been a Laker trademark since True arrived, and was again the reason the local hoopsters will get a second shot against East juggernaut Presque Isle.
LR players relish the opportunity to take on another set of Wildcats.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet. There are things we certainly can do better. Hopefully, we’ll put all those things together against Presque Isle,” said Winslow, who along with fellow senior Sydney Hanncock have been named to the McDonald’s A/B All-Star squad.
Carter, who had a big game against Presque Isle in last year’s Final, said, “We really need to stay on their players, not let them get open shots. We just need to work together, maybe even more, and we need some of the other players who haven’t played a lot here to come through. We have some great shooters, who I think are just starting to warm up. It feels so great to get a second chance at playing in the State Finals. We’re ready for this. We’ve wanted this to be our year. Having played Presque Isle before, we know what to expect. We need to go out there, play our game, play strong and hopefully, we can pull out the win.”
Sydney Hancock felt winning the West was a tribute to the hard work and determination the team has put forth this season.
“This is such a great feeling. It’s always about confidence. After our tough start, we knew we just really needed to dig in and play our game. We’re so confident in ourselves that we knew that if we kept the pressure on them, we’d eventually pull away — which we did,” she said. “It’s a tough thing getting back to the State game. You wear a target on your back all season. Everybody gets up to play you, so you have to be ready to play your best every time out. I would say it took us quite some time to get where we needed to be because of all the injuries we had to deal with. Now, we’re putting it all together. It’s been an amazing season, but we still have a lot of work to do — one more big game to play to reach our goal.”
Turnovers: LR 19, YK 22
FT: LR 11-23, YK 0-6
FG: LR 16-49, YK 11-45
3-Pointers: LR, Sarah Hancock 2, Sydney Hancock 2, Kate Cutting 1; YK Shannon Todd 2.
Top rebounders: LR (27), Carter 16, Winslow 4, Sarah Hancock 3; YK (15) Campbell 4, MacGlashing 44.
Other LR scorers: CeCe Hancock 1, Miranda Chadbourne 4.
Other YK scorers: Paige McElwain 6.