By Brady Extin | The Times-Post
LAPEL — For the first time in 15 years, the Lapel Bulldogs stand atop the Madison County Girls Basketball Tournament.
They did so in dramatic fashion, and on their home floor, defeating the defending champs, Pendleton Heights, 42-38 to earn the second title in school history.
The win was a long time coming for head coach Zach Newby who has now led the team to four title-game appearances in his five years as head coach.
“It feels good. Getting there for the fourth time, I felt a little bit more comfortable going in, but at the same time it’s a different team each time,” Newby said. “We took a lot of time off over Christmas break, and I had never done that before. I just felt like the motivation when we came back from break, they were ready to win.”
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A close game the entire way, Lapel grabbed an early fourth quarter lead and never looked back.
Up 39-33 in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs withheld strong late-game pressure by the Arabians to hold on to the narrow victory.
The Arabians forced five Lapel turnovers down the stretch, and on the night had 14 steals.
Through all that, the Bulldogs remained calm.
“It was all grit, and this group just has a ton of grit. Things aren’t going to go well all the time, and we talk about that. Something’s going to go wrong at some point, but it’s just all about your response,” Newby said. “I feel like we did a great job in that case. We talked about not listening to the crowd, and staying focused on what your job is, and they did their job. The job was to finish out the game with more points than the other team, and they did that.”
Still down six, a Whitney Warfel 3-pointer and then a basket and the foul by her sister, Kaycie, gave Pendleton Heights the chance to tie the game, but a missed free throw allowed the Bulldogs to maintain the slim lead.
Late free throws by both Kerith Renihan and Laniah Wills — who each finished 5-8 from the line on the night — kept the Arabians just out of reach.
With just more than a minute remaining, Wills knocked down one of two shots at the line to increase the Bulldogs lead to three, 41-38.
Down just one possession, Pendleton Heights had multiple chances to tie the game. Missed 3-pointers by both Olivia Jones and Whitney Warfel led to a Wills rebound, one of her game-high 10 boards.
Off of the rebound, she found Renihan who stepped back up to the line with seven seconds remaining, and a chance to all-but-seal the game.
She knocked down the first shot, putting the Arabians away for good.
The Arabians led 23-20 at halftime, but that’s as far ahead as they would get.
“We were super happy at halftime. Lanaih didn’t play a huge portion of the half, we didn’t execute, and we weren’t very disciplined in the first half. So to be down just three, for us, that was a win,” Newby said. “We felt lucky to be where we were at that point because we knew we could play better. It was kind of just regaining that focus and getting the nerves out a bit and still being in the game. We didn’t do anything we talked about doing, but we knew we still had a chance to win the game.”
A Jaylee Hubble 3-pointer, and Madison Poynter basket late in the third quarter, put the Bulldogs in front for good.
Deannaya Haseman knocked down four 3-pointers to lead Lapel with 12 points. Wills and Poynter added nine, Renihan had seven, Jaylee Hubble added a 3-pointer, and Annalee Stow rounded out the scoring with two.
Wills brought down the game-high ten rebounds, and led Lapel with two steals.
“I think the belief has always been there, or you could always tell that they wanted to believe that they could win county and make a tournament run, but until you do it, it’s kind of hard to have that 100 percent belief,” Newby said. “I’ve told them over and over that they can do it, so they’ve heard me say it hundreds of times. Now that they’ve finally gotten to experience that, they want to feel it again. It’s the fuel for the rest of the season. Once you’ve done it once, you’re not satisfied, it just fuels you to win more.”
The Warfels led the Arabians, combining for 27 of their 38 points. Kaycie led all scores with 16, while Whitney had 11. Jones added five points, Skylar Baldwin had four, and Berkley Shelton had two.
Baldwin had five steals, and Whitney Warfel had four.
Lapel played 16-0 Blackford on Tuesday after press time, and their next game is a rematch against Pendleton Heights on Tuesday, Jan. 17, while the Arabians take on Hoosier Heritage Conference opponent New Palestine at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pendleton Heights Middle School.