South Finals: Lakers return the favor, stifling defense ends Freeport’s dream run

CELEBRATING a South title and a trip to the Class B state final are seniors Rachel Shanks, Aisley Sturk and Chandler True (Rivet Photos)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Over several weeks, there was a lot of buzz and press coverage of Freeport’s magical run.

As freshmen, the Falcons went 2-16.

Now, as seniors, they were reaching the regional final for the first time since 1976 and were one step away from realizing a dream — playing in a state final.

One newspaper dubbed them Destiny’s Darlings.

Chandler True and her fellow Lakers had their own destiny in mind as they eagerly embraced a rematch with the Falcons for the Class B South title at the Cross Insurance Center in Portland.

The bad taste of a 59-47 home loss on Feb. 2 remained.

“The two days leading up to the game, we told the girls we were up nine with four minutes to go in the third quarter. And then, most of the rest of the way, Brooke (Harriman) and Lauren (Jakobs) were sitting next to me,” Lake Region Coach Paul True said. “So, the deal is, we need you on the floor. No foolish fouls. And if we just take care of the basketball, we had a chance.”

The Lakers produced an encore performance on the biggest stage, unleashing a stifling defense that left the Falcon offense sputtering at 10-for-47 from the field (21.3%) while breaking Freeport’s press and scoring 10 fastbreak points leading to a stunning 42-34 victory.

Lake Region (16-5) advances to the Class B state finals for the seventh time under Coach Paul True.

GREAT FEELING cutting down the net, Melissa Bonenfant and Lauren Jakobs.

They were ready

There were no surprises when the Lakers met the Falcons. As expected, Freeport was quick and physical as they tried to trap LR ballhandlers all over the court.

Unlike the loss in Naples, the Lakers were more poised, crisp in their attack against the press and played with an edge.

There were five lead changes in the opening quarter. LR got a big boost from senior reserve Rachel Shanks, who scored inside and drained a 3-pointer off a cross-court pass from Chandler True with 1:07 left to tie the game, 9-9.

Freeport took an 11-9 lead after one.

The 3-point shooting woes from Thursday were gone as the Lakers took control in the second period. True kick started a 12-9 run with a trey from the left wing after a little prodding from her coach. The LR senior was wide open, but hesitated to shoot, instead looking to pass. Coach True yelled out, “Stick it,” and Chandler responded with a swish.

“It goes a little against what we preach. You have to look to score first. If you don’t, it’s probably not going to be a quality shot,” Coach True said. “You could see the way the defense was rotating that they were leaving her and she had a wide-open opportunity there with her feet set. She hit a great shot.”

TOURNEY'S TOP PLAYER, Chandler True (right) received the Mike DiRenzo Award.

Harriman followed suit, quickly pulling the trigger on an open look, knocking down a trey with 3:22 left until the half.

LR opened up some daylight as Aisley Sturk swooped in for a rebound, found Jakobs on the wing, and she fired a perfect pass up the court to Shanks for an uncontested layup. LR was up 21-15.

Freeport stole some of LR’s momentum in the closing minute as top scoring threat Caroline Smith finally cracked the stat sheet, scoring twice to make it 21-20.

“Early on when we built the lead, we did a really good job against their press and it lead to open shots. When we played in a half-court set, we struggled because they did a really good job getting out into the passing lanes, switching on screens, jumping dribble handoffs. So, I think probably in hindsight, they wouldn’t have pressed us quite as long as they did. It worked in our favor. With their 2-2-1 press, they had four people at times in the backcourt, which it gets boggled up. We tried to get people to the right spots so we could go over the top with some passes, which consistently gave us 2-on-1s going to the basket,” Coach True said. “We changed our press breaker a little bit, and we got the ball into the hands of the people we wanted to handle the ball. Then, you have someone like Rachel (Shanks), who comes in and hits some major shots. Against a team that really presses, if you pull the ball out and run your offense, you play right into their hands. Our mindset was when they press, we needed to make them pay by attacking the basket. In that third quarter, we hit some big shots.”

Lauren Jakobs on the drive.

Late in the half, LR freshman point guard Shauna Hancock was sidelined after crashing to the floor on a drive to the rim. Unlike the previous meeting with the Falcons when she took a big hit and missed the end of the contest, Hancock made a return.

“When I fell, I started to get stepped on a little bit and started to have back spasms. After we put some Icy Hot on it, I was certainly good to go. There was nothing that was going to keep me out of the game and on the bench,” Hancock said. “I knew it was going to be physical so I mentally prepared myself that I might get knocked down or elbowed.”

Coach True cited the defensive effort his freshman point guard turned in against Freeport’s Smith.

“Give credit to our freshman — Shauna. She guarded Bri Jordan against Gray, and she guarded Caroline Smith of Freeport. She’s a mature basketball player. She’s played tons of basketball. I really think she’s a kid who thrives in those moments. She is a competitor. To me, this tournament really brought out the competitiveness in our kids. They just battled for 32 minutes in every game that we played,” Coach True said. “At times when you give kids specific assignments, they can really focus on that and perhaps lose sight on the magnitude of their surroundings. Shauna was quicker than the kids she was guarding. It was all about staying in front and not allowing them to get by her. She was amazing.”

Handoff between Shauna Hancock and Aisley Sturk.

Also amazing was the “team defense” the Lakers put forth, especially in the game-deciding third quarter when they allowed just 4 points to take command, 35-24.

“It was the theme of the week. Our kids had confidence just holding the Number 1 team to really just 28 points (they threw in a 3-pointer at the buzzer). So, it was the mentality that every possession matters, and just locking their players down and trusting each other,” Coach True said.

LR scored the first six points as True connected on a 3-pointer, using a solid screen set by Aisley Sturk and then darted past two defenders for a layup.

Freeport’s lone bucket came off an offensive rebound with 2:49 left in the period. Meanwhile, LR was in a groove. No better example was Rachel Shanks. Two quick passes found Shanks alone on the wing, and she never hesitated, firing a 3-point shot that barely moved the twines.

“Both 3s in the quarter were huge. Our first couple possessions weren’t great, so Chandler’s 3 to put us up four points seemed to get us going. And, Rachel was open and had the confidence to shoot it,” Coach True said. “Rachel was a monster in the finals. She played unbelievable. You never know how kids are going to react in those big moments. You put your faith in the preparation, and hopefully give kids the confidence to step up in those moments. Rachel just came up huge for us. I just couldn’t be happier for her.”

Block by Lauren Jakobs.

As time ticked off the clock and the level of desperation heightened, Falcon shooters seemingly rushed shots and found little success. They were a dismal 2-of-26 from the field, and had just one bucket in the fourth, scoring eight points from the line.

LR scored all of their final points from the charity stripe (11-of-20 for the game).

“It was a teeter-totter experience for us. We missed some front ends of 1-and-1s, and they make four straight. But, I felt where we were at in terms of the game we were a foul or two away from getting into the double bonus, and I really felt that relaxed our kids. They looked like different shooters. A number of the misses were in and out. Shauna hit two really clutch free throws that took us from a four to six-point game. It’s now either a two-possession game which you hit two 3s, which you hadn’t done all game long, or three possession game which you need to hit free throws. The way we were playing defensively, it was a challenge for them,” Coach True said.

A challenge Freeport was unable to overcome as their magic carpet ride came to a screeching halt.

“It still feels unreal right now because I haven’t been in this situation before. It’s amazing that we have a chance to win a Gold Ball,” senior Lauren Jakobs said. “When we first played them, foul trouble really hurt us. Today, we didn’t commit those silly fouls. We did a better job taking care of the ball. We spend so much time together and trust each other that we know no matter what happens, we can pull it off. We’re all best friends, so it’s a lot of fun.”

Rachel Shanks had a big game at both ends of the court.

Fellow senior Chandler True added, “Seeing how happy everyone was that we accomplished something that made them proud was unbelievable.”

True said the Lakers were confident that they could pass another difficult test against another team they had lost to in the regular season.

“We knew we needed to be tough because they really get feisty with that press. We knew we couldn’t let them get into our heads and had to stay strong. We knew what we could do,” she said. “I think it was a blessing that we lost to those two teams (Gray-NG and Freeport) in the regular season because we learned so much from it. We wanted to win even more, not wanting to have that losing feeling again. Trust is the biggest thing for us. We just have great team chemistry. Without it, I don’t think we would be as successful. We all hang out together. We talk. How close we are helped us win this game today.”

This time, LR had the grit and mental focus to survive and play another day.

“Every shot was contested. Every turnover in our gym led to points, but this time, it didn’t lead to points in the Civic Center. Even when we made mistakes, the mentality was, ‘Hey, let’s move on and get a stop and get the ball back.’ I thought it was critical piece of the game,” Coach True said. “Not any one person was responsible for limiting them to one shot. I heard one of the commentators on TV actually say, ‘the Lake Region rebounding mentality is a gang mentality.’ It’s what we did. We had five kids around the rim all the time. Without question, it was the best defensive efforts we had all season.”

Shauna Hancock looks to shoot.

As Coach True raised the game ball to Laker Nation, all the hard work and belief that this group had what it takes to reach the finals paid off.

“Just so happy for our kids and for a community, especially those who have been loyal supporters. It’s just a lot of work. When that moment hits you, you embrace the moment the best you can,” Coach True said. “We were in the shadows a lot this year, which is okay. At the same time, it is motivating. The more you hear that you can’t do it or people feel you can’t do it, it becomes that much more motivating. I’ve always said that pressure is something that you put on yourself. So to me, it is not about believing in the hype or what is going on around you. It’s about staying driven and focused on the process. We talk about it a lot — the process. We’re not focused on outcomes or getting to a state championship. We’re focused on getting a stop every time down the floor, blocking out, rebounding, finishing possessions, so if that is what you are focused on, everything else takes care of itself.”

Along with the Class B South plaque, LR senior Chandler True, who scored a game-high 15 points, received the Mike DiRenzo Award as the tourney’s top player and sportsman.

“It meant everything to me. As you saw, I was really emotional about it because it was so humbling and unexpected. I couldn’t be more thankful for the community I have grown up in and the teammates I have and be here with my father, it just means everything to me,” Chandler said.

Looking for help against Freeport's press, Chandler True.

“It’s really hard in those moments to separate myself (father and coach) because I am in coach mode all the time. So, it was a really special moment for a very unselfish young lady who has dreamed about that moment her entire life,” Coach True said. “It’s not something she seeks out, so when an opportunity like this comes about, it’s a reflection of the hard work she has put it. It was really cool.”

Headed to a State Final is even cooler, Chandler and her teammates said.

“This is what you dream of when you are a little kid. What you work for your entire life. It’s here, but we’re not done yet,” Chandler said. “What makes it 10 times better is that people didn’t expect us to be here today. But, here we are, headed to States. One more to go.”

Stat Lines

LR scoring: True 15, Shanks 11, Jakobs 7, Hancock 6, Harriman 3.

Freeport scoring: Smith 10, Goodman 8, Driscoll 7, Cormier 3, Gould 2, Bogue-Marlowe 2, Rinaldi 2.

Near block by Rachel Shanks.

Rebounds: LR 28, FRE 25

Turnovers: LR 25, FRE 15

Steals: LR 8, FRE 10

Free Throws: LR 11-20, FRE 12-15

Field Goals: LR 13-31, FRE 10-47

3-Pointers: LR 5-13, FRE 2-15

Time to celebrate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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