WINONA LAKE — Lakeland Christian’s girls are back in the championship of the Cougar Classic, and eager for a chance to reprise last year’s narrow title game loss.
The Lady Cougars went 2-0 with wins over Granger and Victory Christian in the girls tournament at LCA Thursday. Tip-off of the ladies championship is slated for 4 p.m. at Grace College’s Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
“We’re definitely excited. Last year we lost in a close championship game so we’re excited to get ourselves there for a second chance tomorrow,” said LCA girls coach Allison Kaufman.
The Cougars started slowly in their tourney-opener with Granger and built towards a convincing, 35-19 win. The Cougars never trailed in Thursday’s late outing against Victory, but they did have to weather a third-quarter surge by the Lions.
Victory whittled their hosts advantage to a single point at 30-29 with Savannah Shock’s slashing lay-in at the 7:32 mark of the final stanza, but back-to-back triples from Jessi Calizo and a pair of free throws by big sister Tori added up to an 8-0 spurt, and the home team was finally able to get a little breathing room. Carly O’Hara’s lay-up on a Maddie Paris assist with a little under five minutes to go pushed that lead out to double digits, and the Cougars knocked down 8 of 14 free throws in the quarter to close it out, 48-40.
“It was definitely a momentum-shift. They started coming back a little bit, and the girls stepped up and hit some big shots,” said Kaufman of her team’s run of eight straight points in the fourth period. “We talked about all season just taking them with confidence, and that’s exactly what the girls did. They did a great job of attacking. That’s what started it — draw the defense — and then we were getting some wide-open kicks. When they started to be aggressive, things started to open up for us.”
Jessi finished with 11 points, two assists and two blocks and Anna Reimink tallied 10 points, eight rebounds, two assists and three steals in a steady game, but Tori made the biggest contribution for her team with 20 points, nine rebounds, two assist and two steals. She already had nine points by the second quarter in helping her team get off to a 12-6 start, a lead they never once relinquished.
“All night she and Jessi and Anna did a lot of the scoring for us. That is a testament to them attacking off the dribble, and it opened up a lot of shots for us,” Kaufman said of Tori. “You wouldn’t tell that they added up to 20, but yeah, she was consistent all night through all four quarters for us.”
While the Cougars typically use full court pressure and ball-hawking in the half court to turn teams over, they were more conservative in their second game of the day playing against a Trinity team playing in its first game of the day. Instead, they opted to set up in the half court, where they held the Lions to paltry 16-of-57 (28 percent) shooting from the floor. Eleven of the visitors’ points came on second-chance shots as Trinity used a significant height advantage to pull down 22 offensive rebounds for the game. It was the Lions who tried to flip the script on LCA with the press late, but the Cougars weathered nine second-half turnovers for the win.
“A lot of it was just to save legs,” explained Kaufman of her team’s half court defensive approach in the second game. “I told my girls ‘We start intense half court defense, pack it in, save our legs a little bit to be fresh for the end of the game.’ And Victory had a lot of length, and we didn’t want to give up some easy layups at the start of the game. We kind of read it as the game went on and started to apply a little bit more pressure, but they did a great job in the half court.”
Thursday’s afternoon win came on the heels of a win over Granger. The Cougars did use full court pressure in that tourney-opener but led just 6-4 after a slow first quarter. They turned up the heat with a 14-2 second period, however, to build a 20-6 halftime cushion on the way to the win.
Reimink was limited to just five points and five rebounds in that contest in intermittent foul trouble. Tori scored another team-high 12 with six rebounds and three steals, and Abigail Fishel supplied a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds. Jessi Calizo scored just three points with five caroms, two assists and two steals taking over at the point for the beleaguered Reimink.
“We had Anna in foul trouble for most of the game, but Jessi did a great job of stepping up and playing point guard for us and we finished out that game strong,” Kaufman said.