LAPEL — The Lapel Bulldogs began their defense of last year’s 2A state championship Tuesday, Feb. 28, against Wapahani.
They served notice early and often that they won’t give up that title easily.
Senior Jon Ross Richardson led a balanced Bulldog offense with 17 points, and the Lapel defense shut down the Raider scorers for a 63-28 win to advance to the Friday, March 3, sectional semifinals.
Lapel (16-8) will play Sheridan at 6 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal, while Wapahani finished its season at 15-7 with a third straight loss.
Lapel scored the first six points of the game and built a double-digit lead at 13-3 before Richardson scored his first point. That came a moment later when he and junior Austin Lyons hit back-to-back 3-point shots and, by the time sophomore Luke Richardson scored on a rebound basket at the buzzer, Lapel was on its way with a 21-9 lead at the end of one quarter.
Wapahani junior guard Peyton West hit a 3-point shot to open the second quarter to get the Raiders back within single digits at 21-12. But junior Josiah Hudson followed with a 3-point ball of his own to start a 39-6 run that would last into the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs poured it on.
“I didn’t see that coming,” Lapel coach Jimmie Howell said. “That’s a pretty solid first three quarters.”
West, who is Wapahani’s leading scorer at 21.2 points per game, was held to just three points when these two teams played early in the season and managed just seven Tuesday night. Howell said his team simply executed the defensive game plan.
“We always try to get a hand up,” he said. “We wanted to make him drive it, and we know he likes to go left. The kids did a really good job of that.”
In addition to Jon Ross Richardson’s 17 points, junior Preston Scott scored 11, and four players — Hudson, Lyons, Luke Richardson and senior Will Jones — scored eight points each as Lapel handed out 14 assists on 24 made baskets. Howell said the balance of his team’s offense was apparent in the scoring of his players.
“I loved the balance at halftime,” he said. “I go out there and look up (at the scoreboard), and it’s got eight, six, seven, six, eight with the five guys who are starting. That’s great balance.”
Using its size to its advantage, Lapel outrebounded the Raiders 30-22 and committed 10 turnovers, just six in the first three quarters. The Bulldogs shot 55 percent from the field, which Howell said was a product of good ball movement and shot selection.
“There might have been one or two bad shots,” he said. “But for the most part, we took good shots. On balance, the kids took the shots they needed to take.”
Scott, who also led the Bulldogs with six rebounds, said he wasn’t surprised at the way Lapel played against a solid Wapahani team.
“We knew that we are always capable to come out and play that well,” he said. “We came out firing on all cylinders. Coming into the tournament, we know that everyone is trying to knock us off.”
He said the team’s confidence won’t be going away anytime soon.
“It’s there,” Scott said. “It’ll be there the whole time.”