By Blake Faith
No. 15 Wabash Valley College relied on its size advantage to rally past Lake Land on Wednesday night, extending its conference winning streak in a 67-54 victory.
Wabash Valley (20-2, 11-0) has now won 63 consecutive games in the GRAC. Lake Land, which retained its No. 6 spot last week in the national poll, dropped to 22-3, 6-2 in conference play.
The Lakers felt the loss of Baylee Breedlove, their tallest player at 5 feet 11, who was too ill to play. Wabash Valley features three starters who are 6 feet or taller. The size difference enabled the Warriors, an NJCAA Division I team, to snare twenty more rebounds than the Division II Lakers. Wabash had 44 overall, using several of its 12 offensive rebounds to score in the paint late in the game.
Despite the loss, the Lakers were able to restrain a potent Wabash Valley offense that had recorded more than 100 points eight times this season. In fact, this was Wabash Valley’s lowest scoring output since an 86-63 loss on Nov. 2, and it is the squad’s third lowest output this season.
Wabash Valley had defeated Lake Land 80-75 earlier this season.
“I thought they accepted the challenge and fought back,” Lake Land coach Dave Johnson said. “We’re not going to be able to play casually or without 100 percent effort and we’re not built that way. We have to scratch and claw for every point and every loose ball and that’s how we’re built.
Lake Land’s Carsyn Fearday scored a team-high 25 points, on six-of-17 attempts, a slightly better shooting percentage than the team overall. Fearday’s teammates converted 23.9 percent of their field goals.
Wabash Valley, meanwhile, made 46 percent of its field goals, including half its shots in the second half – about twice Lake Land’s 25.8 percent rate during that same period.
Four Wabash Valley players scored in double-figures: Jazmyn Turner (18), Keya Patton (16), Michaela White (14) and Monique Pruitt (10).
In the second quarter, Wabash Valley relied on Pruitt to make plays on both ends of the floor. Pruitt ignited a 15-2 run by scoring five points, including an offensive putback while being fouled, and blocking a shot on the defensive end. Pruitt finished the half with eight points and three rebounds.
After a 15-2 run gave Wabash a 22-14 lead, Fearday started a run for the Lakers by making a layup. The Lakers rallied behind Fearday’s eight straight points to go on a 15-5 run to retake the lead, 29-27.
“I’ve got really good players,” Johnson said. “They do a great job of preparing and playing as hard as they can. I think that’s why we’ve been able to stay in the game.”
Fearday finished the half with 15 points and converted her free-throw opportunities by shooting 7-of-8 from the line.
Wabash Valley’s Jordan Aikens hit a 3-pointer to end the Lakers’ run and give the Warriors a 32-27 first-half lead.
In the third quarter, Lake Land fought its way back into the game behind Fearday’s four straight points and Abby Weiss’ only 3-pointer to move Lake Land within 36-34 early in the third quarter.
The Warriors turned to Turner, who scored eight points in the third quarter to give the Warriors a 51-46 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Lakers fought their way within 57-55, but they did not make a field goal during the final 3 minutes 8 seconds when the Warriors ended the game on a 10-0 run for their 13th straight victory.
“We’ve got a lot to play for in the last five games,” Johnson said. “We want to hold our spot at number two in the conference. We’ve just got to work to get better and carry this intensity and effort into the next five games and into the regional tournament.”
Lake Land next plays at John A. Logan at 1 p.m on Saturday.