PARKER CITY — On the first possession of the game, Lapel senior Mallory Willis stepped into the passing lane to pick up a steal. But she didn’t get across the timeline before a Golden Bear stole the ball right back.
That opening exchange would be a fitting preview for the way the entire night went for the Bulldogs.
Sophomore Jordyn Barga scored 18 points, and a relentless Monroe Central defense forced 27 Lapel turnovers as the third-ranked Golden Bears beat the Bulldogs 52-32 to claim the Sectional 40 championship.
The Bulldogs — who squeaked by Wapahani Friday in the semifinal game — finished the season at 18-6, while Monroe Central (23-2) won its 13th-straight game; Monroe Central will play Madison-Grant in next Saturday’s regional in Greentown. The last loss for the Golden Bears was Dec. 15 in Lapel, 50-36.
Saturday’s rematch on Monroe Central’s home court bore no resemblance to the first game.
Monroe Central made five of 11 shots in the first quarter, including both 3-point attempts, while the Bulldogs turned the ball over eight times in the period. By quarter’s end, a Barga layup at the buzzer had put the Dawgs down 19-8.
Lapel coach John Willis gave credit to the Monroe Central defense — he said they never allowed the Bulldogs to establish any offensive continuity.
“Excellent defensive pressure,” Willis said. “I really thought that we’d be able to handle that after a couple games this season. We just couldn’t get anything going. We’d get two or three baskets, and then we’d stall.”
The one positive burst for the Bulldogs came in the second quarter, after a 3-point shot by freshman Hannah Bolton put the Bears up 22-8. Junior Bree Boles started a 9-2 run with back-to-back layups before hitting a 3-point shot. Senior Samantha Kern scored on a rebound basket to cap the run and the Bulldogs had pulled to within 24-17.
On her second basket, Boles moved past Andrea Jennings into second place on Lapel’s all-time scoring list for girls.
But, Bolton scored on a rebound to end the first half, and junior Marissa Huddleston opened the third quarter by converting a 3-point play to expand the lead to 29-17.
Lapel would trail by double-digits the remainder of the game.
In addition to leading all scorers, Barga also was tasked with chasing and guarding Boles most of the night. The junior standout for Lapel was held to a hard-earned 14 points, which led Lapel.
“I thought Barga did a nice job on Bree,” Willis said. “She forced her out. And their ball pressure made us a half-second or a second slower in getting her the ball in a position to score.”
The game represented the last for four Lapel seniors. Coach Willis said starters Mallory Willis and Samantha Kern and key reserves Taylor Anderson and Tylor Wyant were model representatives of Lapel High School.
“I think about our mascot,” he said. “A Bulldog and how it fights. Those four kids epitomize work ethic and working together. Those four, their goal was a sectional championship. We got this far and we had our shot. They will be sorely missed. They do so many little things that no one notices. They kept their roles, stood up when their number was called and made the most of it.”
Freshmen Delany Peoples and Makynlee Taylor scored six points each for Lapel, while Boles, Wyant and Kern led the Bulldogs with five rebounds each. Boles also had three steals, and Willis handed out two assists.
In a game as close as Friday’s Sectional 40 semifinal game promised to be, points would be at a premium, and a combination of poise and patience were going to be vital.
The Lapel Bulldogs exhibited plenty of poise and scored just enough points to move on and compete for their first sectional championship in a decade.
Boles scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and sophomore Kylie Rich stood tall in overtime as Lapel edged Wapahani 44-42, avenging a season-ending loss in Selma.
The game was tied at the end of each quarter, had eight total ties, and five lead changes. Lapel’s biggest lead of the game was five and Wapahani’s biggest was seven at 22-15 in the third quarter, when it appeared the Raiders might be pulling away. But the Bulldogs stayed calm and battled back, closing the quarter on a 9-2 run to tie things back up.
Boles hit a free throw line jumper, and Rich hit a baseline runner to get the run started. After a Raider bucket, Wyant converted a 3-point play on a breakaway layup after she stole the ball. Boles then sank a pair of free throws after grabbing an offensive rebound to tie the game at 24 heading to the fourth quarter.
Second half rebounding was a key for the Bulldogs. After being outrebounded 15-14 in the first half, Lapel controlled the boards in the second half by a 25-19 edge. In addition to the 11 from Boles, Taylor had eight and Anderson grabbed six, including several offensive rebounds, off the bench. Rebounding and turnovers, Lapel had just 12 for the game, were the most important factors for the Bulldogs, according to Coach Willis.
“There were two things that we needed to do tonight,” he said. “Control our turnovers, and we needed to beat them on the boards. I thought if we did that, we would let the rest of the game happen. We challenged them at halftime to not let them beat us on the boards. We had a ton of kids tonight who were active in the second half. Kynlee came in and was constantly moving — a lot of those kids were working hard.”
Lapel held a 39-36 lead on a layup from Boles with just more than a minute left in regulation. But Wapahani (15-11) tied the game with 45 seconds left on a 3-pointer by senior Kaci Mangus, who scored all seven of her points in the second half. Rich took a 3-pointer with three seconds left, but missed, sending the game to overtime.
The sophomore point guard made up for that miss in the extra session. She drove into the lane to give Lapel a 41-39 lead to open the overtime. After Wapahani tied the game for the final time, she grabbed a subsequent Raider miss and found senior Samantha Kern for the go-ahead layup, Kern’s only basket of the night. After the Raiders made a free throw, Rich countered with a charity toss to give Lapel the 44-42 lead with just 1:15 left.
Wapahani had shots down the stretch. But they went 0-4 in the final minute, all rebounded by Bulldogs with Boles, Kern and Willis each grabbing a board, preventing any second chance opportunities.
Boles, who also had four blocked shots, including a huge block in overtime to preserve the lead, said she enjoyed the competitive nature of the game.
“These are my favorite games to play,” she said. “I feel like, we have to be positive so we don’t beat ourselves. I try to stay upbeat, laugh a little and pat each other on the back. I think that’s why we won — we never got down at all. Those times we fell behind, it would have been easy to give up, but we didn’t.”
Both teams had opportunities to win the game in regulation but struggled at the free throw line; the Raiders were 11-17, while the Bulldogs were just 9-19.