Lake's Cinderella tourney run continues into regionals

J. Patrick Eaken

The Northern Buckeye Conference was guaranteed to get a team into the Division III regional tournament.
        Only, it wasn’t going to be league champion Otsego, runner-up Eastwood, or third place Woodmore. You can thank the Lake Flyers for that.
        One by one, the Flyers (13-12, 4-10) mowed down all three — first Eastwood (17-6, 12-2) 69-65, then Woodmore (17-6, 9-5) 64-57, and in the district semifinal, Lake defeated Otsego (21-4, 13-1), 68-65, in double overtime.
        “It was crazy. We came out here knowing we had to get back at them this third time,” Lake 5-foot-11 junior Hayley St. John said. “We have had a lot of upsets in the tournament so far because every team we’ve beat they beat us in the league two times and they thought it would come easy and we really showed what we are made of.”
        Colette Askins, a 5-11 senior, added, “We had it in us all season, but things are starting to click now. We’re getting after it more defensively, getting back to where we were on defense, and shots are starting to fall. We don’t worry about making certain plays. We just go with the flow of the game.”
        St. John scored most of her points driving through gaps in Otsego’s 3-2 zone, and it was effective. That same zone has been giving teams fits all season.
        “We had to really adjust to it,” St. John said. “We worked really hard all week at it at practice, like diving and cutting and that really helped, and then getting it out to the three-point line.”
        If you were to tell fifth-year Lake coach Joe Nowak that his team made a “nice effort” after beating the Knights, he’d say that word is not good enough. Otsego was up 18-5 after one quarter, but Lake fought back finally taking their first lead late in the fourth quarter.
        “I don’t think nice is the word. I think tonight was definitely a tremendous effort. I was a little bit worried at our Eastwood game because we have such young players. It was the first big game, and then tonight, too, but I think tonight it really showed. I’m glad I saw that,” Nowak said.
        “Like I told the girls, they (Otsego) have eight seniors, they’ve been through this before and I don’t think that showed early on. I think down the stretch, after that first quarter, the girls really showed what we have too. I told them a couple different times that what I’m most proud of here in this three-game stretch is that we’ve been down and they didn’t pack it in. They kept fighting. They didn’t do that tonight after the first quarter, but we just had a tremendous effort.”
        On Saturday afternoon at Anthony Wayne, the Flyers had one more NBC team to deal with — Elmwood (16-9, 7-7), which was putting together its own Cinderella tournament run. The winner plays in the regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3 at Ohio Northern University’s King Horn Center against the Ottawa-Glandorf-Sherwood Fairview winner.
Lots of potential scorers
        In the win over once state-ranked Otsego, St. John scored 21, 5-8 sophomore Delanie Robinson added 17 and 6-0 senior Karly Bekier scored 12.
        Bekier had a key three-point shot with two seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. Going into Thursday’s action, she led the team with 50 three-point goals.
        “She’s a great three-point shooter. She definitely helps us in that, so that was really awesome for her,” St. John said.
        St. John has been the team’s leading scorer through the season, averaging 15.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 2.2 assists.
        Robinson is averaging 12 points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists, but in the win over Eastwood she hit six three point shots and scored 32, and in the win over Woodmore she had four treys and 21 points, leading her team in both games.
        “The first couple times we played Eastwood, we had it in us but we were kind of struggling a little bit,” Bekier said. “But, the third time when we played them in the tournament, everything was just like on. We were focused and strong on both ends and we just came out on top. We were doing good things.
        “Against Woodmore, we really had that rhythm. We continued to work on the stuff that we work on in practice and improving on, and we just pulled it out,” Bekier added.
        Other top scorers are 5-9 sophomore Ava Ayers (8.8 pts.), Bekier (7.8 pts.), 5-11 senior Colette Askins (4.1 pts.) and 5-11 sophomore Brigid Enright (3.4 pts.). Askins has 146 rebounds in 24 games, Avers has a team-leading 73 steals and Askins follows at 72, and Askins leads the team with 70 assists — all in the first 24 games.
        During the regular season, Eastwood defeated Lake 65-53 and 58-52, and in the tournament game the Eagles were without star senior guard Jamie Schmeltz, who was hurt. Still, Eastwood has a deep bench and remained a formidable opponent.
        “Going against Eastwood, we were confident we could play with them,” Nowak said. “We played with them when they were totally healthy early in the year and then we got them the second time around, and unfortunately they didn’t have Jamie, but they were still a good team. It was a team that gave Toledo Christian their first loss, so they are a really good team, and we played well. We executed, we got back to playing defense. We didn’t give up, we kept fighting.”
        Woodmore defeated Lake, 64-48 and 61-57, but Lake outscored the Wildcats 22-11 in the fourth quarter to win the tournament game.
        “It was kind of the same thing. The first time we played them we didn’t really compete with them — it was a little disappointing the first time around,” Nowak said. “We went after them and were right there with them down the stretch the second time around.
        “We just kind of tweaked a couple different things and it was just getting back to our roots, so to speak — back to what we’ve been working on here for years. There was kind of a contrasting style there between those two games — it was nice having those days in between that we could shift gears a little bit. Eastwood, they are guard heavy, they will get up and down the floor, whereas Woodmore can still get out and run, but their focus is to try and get it inside.
        “I thought we adjusted well and we handled that, but I think it all came down to rebounding the ball and we executed. We only had five turnovers against Woodmore, which is huge.”
        Otsego nipped the Flyers 47-46 and 52-47 during the regular season.
        “Our times against Otsego, the first time we were right there with them and gave it away at the end. But where it really came together was our second time against Eastwood,” Nowak said.
        “We dropped it, just a week before our tournament game. We had a disappointing showing against Genoa (55-46 Comet win) and we turned it around. We had a nine point lead and gave it away, and then turned it around two days later and beat a really good Bryan team (56-40). So, it’s just kind of snowballed there that we are riding this wave.”

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