LAPEL — The Lapel defense has been solid all season, giving up just 49 points per game. In Friday’s sectional semifinal game against Sheridan, they raised the bar even higher.
The Bulldogs forced 25 turnovers, including 14 on Sheridan’s first 17 possessions, and held the Blackhawks to just 25 percent shooting as Lapel took care of business with a 79-29 rout against an outmanned Sheridan team.
Lapel (17-9) will take on Frankton in the sectional championship game at 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday, March 4.
The Eagles were 79-53 winners against Monroe Central in the second semifinal game and enter the title matchup at 18-6. This will mark the third-straight year the rivals have faced off in the sectional, with each winning one of the previous meetings in close games.
There was nothing close about Lapel’s win versus Sheridan Friday as the rout was on early.
Lapel made six of eight first quarter field goals and all four free throw attempts as they ran out to a 17-4 lead at the first break. If the Lapel offense was impressive, the defense was oppressive.
Juniors Josiah Hudson and Preston Scott combined for five first-quarter steals, and senior Will Jones had one. The team defense also forced multiple traveling calls and five-second calls as the Bulldogs showed tremendous energy early.
“We came out focused,” coach Jimmie Howell said. “Sometimes, in games like this, guys come out and do their own thing. But we stayed with the process of doing the things we wanted to do. We’re not going to play the same way defensively in every game, but this was a team that we felt that we could come out and pressure.”
Scott provided the offensive punch in the first half, scoring 11 of his 13 points before intermission. Twice, he converted his steals into open layups and converted 3-of-four free throw opportunities.
Junior Austin Lyons led the Bulldogs with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 3-of-4 from 3-point range. He was the offensive star of the second half, scoring 13 of his points after the break after being saddled with foul trouble in the first half. He made all four field goal and all three free throw attempts in the second half, including a 4-point play. He attributed being rested with his hot second half shooting.
“Since I didn’t play much in the first half, I probably had more legs than anyone on the floor in the second half,” Lyons said. “When we go into practice, coach Howell is always telling me what I’m doing wrong after a miss, and I try to focus on not doing that and really stepping into my shot.”
Senior Jon Ross Richardson added 10 points for Lapel as most of the starters were taken out before the third quarter ended. Sophomore Luke Richardson led the Bulldogs with seven rebounds, while junior Levi Frazier and freshman Bryce Carpenter added five each off the bench as Lapel won the rebounding battle 34-21. Jones handed out three assists, while Hudson finished with four steals.
Following a morning walk through, Lapel will turn its attention to Frankton, a team that the Bulldogs beat early in the season 84-52. But the Eagles are a hot team entering the tournament, and Howell does not expect a repeat of that final score.
“Frankton here, lately, has played really well,” he said. “They’ve won 14 of their last 15 games, or something like that, and are on a roll. They’ve got a lot of different kids playing well, and, of course, Maurice (Knight) is a very good player.”
Both teams are playing well. Lapel has won five in a row and eight of its last nine, while Frankton has won six in a row and 14 of its last 15. The winner will move on to regional at Lapel next Saturday.