TOPEKA – A week and-a-half ago, Lakeland and Angola went head-to-head in girls basketball, with the Hornets coming out on top in what was a very competitive game between two of the best teams in the conference.
Fast forward 12 days later, and the rematch between the two programs held a little more weight than a regular season game.
The Hornets and Lakers battled at Westview High School on Saturday, hoping to be crowned Northeast Corner Conference Tournament champions.
Unfortunately for Lakeland, a bid for both revenge and its first NECC title since 2008 fell short against a potent Hornets squad that wouldn’t be denied their sixth conference title since 2011. The Angola tandem of junior Lauren Leach and senior Hannah Knoll combined to score 42 of their team’s 55 points, leading the Hornets to a 55-45 win.
“We got in the hole early and had to fight our way back,” Lakeland coach Dale Gearheart said. “I told the girls in the huddle during the last timeout and in the locker room that they could’ve laid down, and they could’ve gotten beat by 30 or 20. They fought the entire time and people see that. To lose by 10 with all the layups we missed. … I told them the difference in the game was we missed too many layups at the basket, and (Angola) made their shots.”
In the first matchup on Jan. 4, Lakeland jumped out to a commanding lead early. In the rematch, Angola returned the favor. The Hornets led 9-0 just two and-a-half minutes into the contest behind six early points from Knoll.
Lakeland’s offense started to gain some momentum thanks to sophomore Faith Riehl netting six points in the first period, but Angola countered on almost every Lakeland scoring possession to lead 19-11 after one.
Defensively, the Lakers had no answers for Leach in the post. Her size at 5-11 allowed the junior to take control under the basket against a smaller Lakeland frontcourt. She had 15 points in the first half to lead all scorers, with Knoll dropping in eight.
The Lakers were led by Riehl, who had 10 points in the first half, but still trailed 31-17 at the break.
The second half would heed much of the same.
Points on back-to-back possessions from senior Bailey Hartsough and Riehl to open the second half helped the Lakers trim the Angola lead to 11 early in the third, but that’s as close as coach Gearheart’s team would get.
Angola grew its lead to 16 at the end of the third quarter and held a 17-point lead in the final minutes of the game before the Lakers ended the contest on a 7-0 run over the final minute-and-a-half.
Riehl had a team-high 19 points, while Peyton Hartsough added 10 for Lakeland. The rest of the team combined to score 16 points.
Leach scored a season-high 25 points – with 16 of those coming from the free-throw line – and Knoll had 17, the same amount she scored against Lakeland in the first game.
“They move well, they’re aggressive defensively and they’re aggressive offensively,” said Gearheart, talking about Leach and Knoll. “They move with a purpose, and they’re very good athletes with some good role players around them. But if we play our best, we can beat them.”
Despite the loss, the Lakers have still won nine of 12 and hope to build on this deep conference tourney run as the regular season dwindles down.
“This was a good learning lesson for tournament time,” Gearheart said. “Winning our games that we did to teach them that it’s one game at a time. We’ve got to win to keep going and keep playing. And if we want to keep playing, we have to play better and hit the easy ones.”