WINONA LAKE — Lakeland Christian Academy’s girls basketball team has never won their holiday home tourney, the Cougar Classic. For most of Friday’s championship with Kalamazoo, it seemed like they’d finally break through.
But the visitors staged a fourth-quarter comeback, taking their first lead in nearly 26 minutes with only 3.5 seconds on the clock, and the hosts came up a play short in a 32-31 heartbreaker at Grace College’s Manahan Orthopaedic Center.
“It’s a heartbreaker, especially for our seniors not getting this,” said LCA head coach Allison Kaufman. “We’ve never done it before so it was exciting to have another chance to win this, but at the end of the night it’s not the end. We have bigger and better goals ahead of us in January.”
Lakeland Christian (8-6) led by as many as nine points with Anna Reimink’s steal and fast break assist of a Hope Fancil transition layup at the 5:38 mark of the fourth period. But Kalamazoo went on a furious, 9-0 run to tie it up at 30-all with Naomi Flynn’s post bucket on a Hannah Hofstra assist with just 59 seconds to play.
Reimink split a pair of free throws pushing the ball off the defensive rebound and drawing contact from Maya Rueles to give her team a tenuous, one-point advantage with only 36 ticks on the clock, but Hofstra’s jumper from the baseline — well contested by Fancil — fell true with just 3.5 seconds to go, and with Lauren Tuin sticking to Fancil, LCA couldn’t get the ball inbounded in time on the other end to essentially seal the outcome.
Lakeland Christian made just 1 of 6 shots over the decisive fourth period. Kalamazoo, by contrast, made 5 of 12 shots over the game’s final eight minutes after being held to 7-of-33 shooting over the previous three quarters.
“Down the stretch, the girls came in and played their hearts out,” Kaufman said. “We had played great defense the entire game, and their last five possessions of the game they got five shots that went in and good possessions so it was really the defensive end that got us. And we found a lid on the basket that last three minutes of the game. The layups and some of the opportunities we did have just didn’t fall.”
Part of the difference in the final period was due to the fact that LCA — already down freshman forward Jessica Slone at the outset — lost senior forward Brady Gross after she took an elbow to the nose at the 3:33 stop of the third quarter, and Kalamazoo began to work the ball in close.
And part of the difference was Kalamazoo’s full court pressure, which yielded nine turnovers in the second half after Lakeland Christian had turned the ball over only four times before the break. LCA has been susceptible to the press at times this season, but 13 turnovers Friday in a championship atmosphere was far from their worst performance and Kaufman is keeping it in perspective.
“When we get sped up we definitely do things that we shouldn’t. We make decisions that aren’t good. A lot of times we just don’t make the easy pass. We sit and make things too complicated,” she said.
“We saw a little bit of the fastness tonight, but as a coach I’m trying to keep perspective on the fact that we’ve improved on that a lot since the beginning of the season and that we were able at times to slow down, which is a positive for us.”
Kalamazoo was led by Tuin’s 10 points and standout performance on the defensive end as she was given an all-tournament team nomination. The tourney MVP was given to fellow Kalamazoo junior Audrey Ledvina.
LCA received two all-tourney selections in Reimink, who finished with eight points, three assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block and Fancil, who scored a game-high 15 points with nine rebounds, a steal and a block.
“Hope definitely gave us a lot of offense the last couple days. She’s great off the dribble and with the 3, so having her is such an asset,” said Kaufman. “Anna is our defensive stopper; we put her on the best player. She just brings so much. A lot of it doesn’t go in the stat books, but she also offensively really stepped up the last couple days and had some really big buckets for us.”
LCA heads into a short layover before resuming play in the new year at Argos Jan. 6. Friday’s final outcome wasn’t what Lakeland was hoping for, but the experience at their annual home tournament was overall a positive one as a total of 12 teams played 18 games over two days in the boys and girls tournaments at LCA and Grace.
“This event is so nice every year. Especially in the holidays, it keeps us going,” Kaufman said. “Between December and our games in January, it’s really nice to keep in shape and to get opportunities to play some schools. Kalamazoo is a great team, and we wouldn’t see them regular season. The venues are great Grace College is awesome to allow us to host it here, and to give the girls the opportunity to play in such an awesome venue and to get two great days of basketball is really a blessing that we have.”