LOGANSPORT — County champs. Sectional champs. Regional champs. And now semistate champs.
The Lapel girls basketball team just keeps checking off another box.
On Saturday, they defeated Andrean 44-32, and Central Noble 51-38 to advance to the first Class 2A state championship game in school history.
“Emotionally, it’s an exciting thing. It’s something we’ve never done in program history, so it’s uncharted territory for anyone here,” Lapel head coach Zach Newby said. “The girls have worked extremely hard to get to this point, so they deserve it.”
While the morning game saw the Bulldogs go to leading scorer Laniah Wills over and over, the championship game saw a more rounded approach on offense.
The key to that, and one of the Bulldogs’ keys all season long, was the ability to play with what the opposing defense gave them.
“In the morning, they just let Laniah do her thing,” Newby said. “In the evening they doubled her, tripled her. So that means other people are going to have more opportunities, so we took advantage of those.
In the win against No. 4-ranked Andrean in the morning semifinal game, Wills exploded for 24 of the Bulldogs’ 44 points, and notched a double-double, grabbing ten rebounds.
“She’s huge for us. What we like to do is go into a game and see how they’re guarding us. We take those first few possessions to see if they’re going to double the post, have backside help, play her one-on-one,” Newby said. “At the beginning they played her one-on-one, so we went to her. We saw on film that they didn’t have great backside help, so we went to an offense that gave us some good high, low action.”
After a Jaylee Hubble 3-pointer made things 15-4, Wills reeled off the next 10 Lapel points, and was the only Bulldog to make a field goal from that point on.
While the freshman took care of things on the offensive end, senior guard Kerith Renihan did what she has done all season long on the defensive end and at the free throw line.
To close things out, Renihan went 8-for-9 from the free throw line in the final quarter
“Kerith gets the majority of those shots because she wants the ball in her hands, but the majority of these kids are good free throw shooters, so we’re good with whoever goes to the line to seal the win,” Newby said.
Defensively, she limited Andrean’s leading scorer Tori Allen to just six points, well below her season average of 16.8 points per game.
“Keiith makes it very difficult to score on her, so she did a great job one-on-one, and the other kids recognize where she was, and that set plays are run for her, so they did a great job of taking some of those things away until Kerith can recover,” Newby said. “But the individual effort Kerith gave was really, really good.”
The championship game was more of the same for Renihan on defense.
Central Noble’s leading scorer, Madison Vice, was held four points below her season average of 17.
“After we got back from that game, and she got some rest, she came in to watch film with my assistant, and I and got a look at the opposing team’s best player and her tendencies. She had a good idea of what she wanted to do, and was excited for the challenge,” Newby said. “She stepped up and forced her to work for everything that she got. Whenever you can take the other team’s best player, not even out of the game, but at least make them work harder, that’s going to get the other team out of rhythm.”
The Cougars lost that rhythm shortly into the final frame.
After a Vice layup tied things at 38-38, the Bulldogs reeled off a 13-0 run to close out the win.
A Wills layup and free throw made it 41-38, before an Annalee Stow steal and Maddy Poynter putback put Lapel in its best position of the game.
Knocking down 9-16 free throws down the stretch and putting the clamps on the Cougars’ offense was enough to seal the biggest win in program history.
In the championship win, the Bulldogs got offensive production from across the roster.
While Wills still led the team with 13 points, Deannaya Haseman added 11, Maddy Poynter had 10, Annalee Stow had 8, Rosemary Likens scored five, and Renihan added four.
After a mid-December stretch where the Bulldogs lost two-of-three to Eastern Hancock and Hamilton Heights, Newby began to really see the Bulldogs’ potential.
“I don’t know that any coach is ever sure that they’re going to make a deep postseason run. Our goal was to win a county championship and sectional title,” Newby said. “But once we won county and I saw how they focused in for that week, and how they just had so much resolve and battled to win, I knew we were going to have a chance in any game.”
Since that stretch, the Bulldogs have won 12-of-14, won the Madison County championship, and have knocked off countless ranked opponents.
According to the ICGSA coaches poll, the Bulldogs have knocked off No. 3 Central Noble, No. 4 Andrean, No. 7 Blackford, and No. 12 Eastbrook since January, with three of those wins coming in the postseason, all while not being ranked themselves.
They’ll have one more chance to take down a ranked opponent in Saturday’s state championship. Forest Park (25-3) sits at No. 2 in the class 2A rankings and are the defending 2A state champions.
“I look at the Sagarin ratings because I think it does a better job of ranking teams and showing the quality of teams more than people voting. I think the lowest ranked team in Sagarin that we’ve played the entire tournament was ranked No. 22. So we’ve been knocking off those teams all tournament long and all season long,” Newby said. “This is just going to be another challenge. It’s not something that our girls look at like, ‘oh, no, how are we going to do this?’”
The game is set to take place at 12:45 p.m. at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.