Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Lakers sophomore guard Tayler Barry took matters into her own hands on Sophomore Day with outright ownership of the MWAC conference championship on the line Saturday afternoon.

Quite literally.

Barry made a steal and a free throw to lead Lake Land to a 51-49 win over Parkland in securing the MWAC conference championship Saturday afternoon at Laker Fieldhouse. The Lakers finished 11-1 in the conference.

“To win a conference championship is tremendous because it’s not one game or one week,” Lake Land women’s basketball coach Dave Johnson said. “Our kids set that goal. We accomplished that today.”

Lake Land had defeated the Cobras a month ago, 65-58.

“I’m sure they (Parkland) wanted a share of the conference championship, but we didn’t want to share it,” Johnson said. “I just thought both teams played well defensively. There weren’t many openings at all.”

Parkland sophomores Shaelynn Bell and Brook Runge had been utilizing the in-and-out effectively in the second half keeping pace with the Lakers while triple-teaming Bell at the post.

But this time, with 8 seconds left in the contest and Lake Land ahead 50-49, Barry hijacked a pass from Bell intended for Runge at the wing, and called timeout while falling out of bounds.

Barry received the inbounds pass after the timeout and was immediately fouled, sinking one of two free throws giving the Lakers a slim two-point lead.

With fouls to give, Barry and fellow sophomore guard Olivia Niemerg fouled Parkland sophomore Kenzy Decker three times in the last six seconds, chewing off half the remaining game clock and denying the Cobras an opportunity to set up a play.

Bodied by Lake Land sophomore forward Ali Watson, Bell missed what amounted to a layup as time expired.

“We wanted to eat time,” Johnson said. “We knew we had fouls to give. So as long as they didn’t throw what I called an ‘aggressive’ bounce pass, we were going to foul. If it was going to the rim, we were going to play it out. The only thing we weren’t going to do was give up a three. We absolutely weren’t going to give them a three. They had a pretty good shot and it didn’t go in. It was huge for us.”

Watson’s heroics may have ended there, but Lake Land wouldn’t have been in that position if it hadn’t been for her deft touch at the 3-point line.

Down by four at halftime, Watson sparked a 15-10 third quarter Lakers turnaround with two of her game-high four 3-pointers. All but three of Lake Land’s third quarter points were from beyond the arc.

“We had a variety of people hit a number of threes but it was Ali Watson who played maybe her best half of basketball this year for us,” Johnson said.

“I think we moved the ball very well,” Watson said. “We got it to whoever was hot. I think we worked really well together today.”

Watson hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game with just under three minutes remaining, which gave Lake Land a 43-40 lead. It was the first basket for either team in almost three minutes, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“She wanted that shot when the game was tied,” Johnson said. “When you have a kid that wants to shoot the ball, you have to get the ball to them.

I can’t say enough about her. She’s a kid that comes every day. She wants to win so bad. That’s all she wants to do. Whatever it takes, she’ll do it.”

Watson said they knew they had to play better defensively in the second half.

“We knew we had to come out defensively and rebound better,” she said. “We had to play a lot better offense which wasn’t going well. We came out as a team and played better together.”

Lake Land had 10 defensive rebounds in the second half keeping Parkland from scoring.

Parkland’s Alyssa Cole breathed life into the Cobras, netting a pair of buckets, sandwiching a three by Laker sophomore guard Katelyn Littleton bringing them to within two.

Parkland sophomore guard Chloe Gould’s only score of the game was a three-pointer, giving the Cobras a one-point advantage.

Barry, who finished with a game-high 20 points, raced down the lane and was bearhugged by Cole as she attempted a shot. Barry sank the two free throws and raced down the court to the near baseline before a Parkland timeout with those 8 seconds remaining.

As Bell’s shot rimmed out, Watson turned away from her counterpart and ran to the bench, fistpumping.

“I think it was more of we all wanting to be here together and be conference champs and be the first team back (after rejoining the conference),” she said.” That’s what coach talks about with them being our biggest rival. We know we have to show up because they show up every team now that we playt in our region is going to play their best game against us.”

“I congratulate the kids,” Johnson said. “I make the plan, but it’s all them. They executed it really well.”

NOTES: Johnson remarked that “this group has been so fun to work with”.

Olivia Niemerg: “Liv is just a winner. Alot of what she does goes unnoticed. She handles the ball for us. She rebounds for us. She rarely has a turnover. She plays great defense and communicates well. We’ve had her for three years and that’s been invaluable to us.”

Lexi Niebrugge: “Super smart kid. Great shooter.”

Ali Watson: “Her drive to the basket is a great a read. It’s not something she does a lot. It just showed you how bad she wanted it today.”

Marissa Russo: “Undersized in the post, but rebounds her butt off.”

Tayler Barry: “Been really great for us. She’s just a born a scorer.”

Kylee Phillips: “Kylee does a great job of attacking the basket when she had her chance.”

Chloe Custis: “Chloe has started for us.”

Taylor Orris :“ Taylor can always hit a big shot for us.”

PARKLAND – Gould 1 0-0 3, Heinberg 3 0-0 8, Runge 1 0-0 2, Shepard 4 0-0 9, Decker 3 0-0 6, Cyrulik 1 0-0 2, Cole 3 2-2 8, Bell 5 1-2, 11. 3-pointers: Gould 1, Heinberg 2, Shepard 1. Totals: 21 3-4 49.

LAKE LAND – Littleton 2 0-0 6, Niemerg 2 1-2 5, Barry 7 4-6 20, Watson 5 0-0 14, Niebrugge 2 0-0 6. 3-pointers: Littleton 2, Barry 2, Watson 4, Niebrugge 2. Totals: 18 5-8 51.

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