By Joe Gisondi
Maybe we should not make too much of Lake Land’s early struggles Friday in the NJCAA Central A District women’s basketball semifinal.
After all, the No. 3 Lakers ultimately won 68-41 to earn a spot in today’s championship game against North Central Missouri College set for 2 p.m. at the field house.
Maybe it was no big deal that the nationally-ranked Lakers led by only six points midway through the second quarter against a 2-17 Spoon River squad they had previously defeated by 21 and 18 points this season.
Maybe the missed layups, errant passes and travel calls in the first half could be attributed to a 14-day layoff that would eventually correct. The Lakers had last played March 25, beating No. 8 Parkland, 70-56.
So maybe, ultimately, focusing on these early problems is much ado about very little.
But, at the time, it sure seemed that maybe Lake Land (20-2) should worry at least a little. Like with two minutes left in the first quarter when a free throw moved Spoon River within a basket or when Lake Land failed to make a basket for nearly half the second quarter.
“When we don’t play every other day, we don’t play like ourselves,” said sophomore Kamaria Gant, who scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half. “We weren’t into it like we should have been. A lot of our shots weren’t falling at the beginning, but we didn’t give up and we kept shooting.”
A 3-pointer by a player averaging 1.1 points helped the Lakers finally get going in the second quarter. Joanna Schultz, a sophomore from Altamonte, nailed a shot from the left corner that ignited a 14-2 run and enabled the Lakers to take a double-digit lead they never relinquished. By the time Abby Weis’s 3-pointer from the right side of the key floated into the net as time expired, Lake Land led 31-13 at halftime.
“JoAnna’s shot really helped,” said Weis. “We were in a big, big drought in that first half. And that helped us get the momentum and bring up the tenacity in our play.”
Schultz had hit about 15.4 percent of her 3s during the season.
“We might be a little deeper offensively this year,” Lake Land coach Dave Johnson said. “Like Joanna Schultz comes off the bench today and hits a huge 3 when we just weren’t scoring. I’ve got 12 kids that can really come in at any time and help offensively. So that’s a bigger difference from last year.”
Lake Land allowed only 23 points through three quarters. Spoon River managed to score 18 points in the fourth quarter against a looser defense willing to exchange points down the stretch.
“Definitely not playing (for two weeks) showed up offensively for us,” Johnson said. “I thought defensively we were pretty solid. But offensively you could tell, rhythm-wise, that we were off. I didn’t think that we ran enough early like we did in the second half.”
North Central Missouri, ranked No. 10, defeated No. 14 Lincoln Land, 68-63 in the other semifinal.
Each team is restricted to 25 tickets apiece for today’s championship game.
LAKE LAND (68): Krabel 1 1-2 3, Niemerg 2 2-2 8, Scholz 1 0-0 3, Barry 3 2-4 8, Gant 5 2-2 14, Newson 1 1-4 3, Weis 5 1-1 15, Orris 0 0-2 0, Styill 4 0-2 8, Sirjord 2 1-1 6. Totals 24 10-20 68. 3-pointers – Weis 4, Niemerg 2, Gant 2, Scholz 1, Sirjord 1.