TOPEKA — LaVille head coach Michael Edison wasn’t wholly satisfied with his players’ defensive effort in their sectional-opener Wednesday night, even after it resulted in a comfortable 58-42 win over Fremont.
The Lancers went back to the drawing board at practice Thursday, and Prairie Heights paid the price Friday.
LaVille held the Panthers scoreless for a span of more than nine and a half minutes stretching from the 3:13 mark of the first quarter to the 6:20 stop of the second frame, and after Prairie Heights finally broke the drought, never surrendered another bucket for the remainder of the first half to open up a 28-10 gap at the break. Holding onto a 20-point lead early in the third period, LaVille maintained its lead with a patient halfcourt offense, ultimately claiming a 56-35 Westfield Sectional semifinal win over Prairie Heights.
The Lancers thus earn their first sectional championship berth since the 1991-92 season opposite two-time defending champion Westview, a 55-35 winner over Central Noble in the early semifinal Friday.
“It’s nice to have a good defensive stretch like that,” said Edison of his team’s game-changing run in the second quarter. “It’s something we always try to work on and we always try to stress. Even in the day that we had off in Thursday’s practice, I was working them hard on defense because I was not pleased with some things that we did in the Wednesday night game. But I love how they stepped up.”
The contest was nip-tuck early with three ties and two lead changes in the first frame.
But after the Panthers took their only lead of the night on a lay-in by junior guard Kyler West at the 3:13 stop of the period, LaVille went on a 21-2 spree to put the game all but completely out of reach by the half. With so much ground for the Panthers to make up, the Lancers patiently worked the ball In the halfcourt in the second half, knocking down 9 of 17 field goal attempts and 7 of 9 free throws over the final two periods for their sixth straight win.
“I know we won by about 20, but I didn’t feel comfortable at any time,” said Edison. “I know (Jacob) Heller is quite a player. He can just drive, he can shoot. We had to really key in on him. I felt like they could come back; we were up by 22 and they brought it down to 15 with about four or five minutes to go. He’s just explosive, and they’ve got some other shooters as well.
“We have so much respect for the other team’s offense, we want to keep it out of their hands for as long as possible on our offensive end and be as patient as possible because we know what they’re capable of, that’s kind of what it boils down to. I did like our poise that we played with, and we wanted to work the ball and get a high percentage shot.”
The Lancers’ balanced offense yielded three players in double figures as Nicholas Amor and Blake Berger scored from in close and from off the drive, respectively, and Andrew Hostetler knocked down a pair of 3s on his way to a team-high 17 points for the night. All total, seven LaVille players made their way onto the scoresheet as the Lancers notched 16 team assists led by three apiece from Berger and Amor on the way to 20-of-39 field efficiency.
“We have a lot of unselfish guys on our team, and really it’s not just cliche when I say this — they don’t care who gets the credit,” said Edison. “They want that ultimate goal of winning the game, and it’s really special when you have that and you have four senior leaders like I have that are just special guys.”
While Hostetler, Amor and Berger led the team offensively, Jeff Haygood put up seven points and led his team in the battle of the boards with seven caroms, and fellow starter Landon Manuel put in an outstanding defensive effort with three steals behind Berger’s four as well as several deflections and two assists.
The Lancers also benefitted from strong bench by Cam Gurtner, Ryan Bettcher and Alec Baker.
“Bettcher is probably our most athletic kid in the school with jumping, running; he’s just an amazing athlete. He’s a sophomore, Baker’s a sophomore, but I feel confident in those guys,” Edison said. “When we put them in I don’t feel like oh geesh, we’re going to turn it over, or oh geesh they’re going to make some bonehead play. They play solid for us, and that’s what we’re asking because sometimes Nick Amor might be in foul trouble. It could be any number of reasons — a guy might need a breather — and I thought they stepped up well tonight. Cam Gurtner he played some really good defense four us. I was really pleased with those three or four guys that came off the bench.”
Prairie Heights was paced by Heller’s game-high 18 points with six rebounds as the Panthers bowed out at 11-12 with the loss.
LaVille advances to play host Westview tonight, a repeat Sectional 35 champion that has gone 10-1 on its home floor this season. The Lancers are competing for the program’s first sectional title since the 1985-86 season.
“It’s our goal every year to make it to the sectional championship and hopefully win it,” LaVille’s boss said.
“Moving on to tomorrow, Westview will be probably our toughest team that we play all year. They didn’t get off to the best start earlier today, but they will bring their best game tomorrow against us. We’ll have to execute, we’ll have to minimize our turnovers, we’ll have to knock in some shots, and we’ll have to just play some good, solid LaVille basketball.”
• Class 2A Sectional 15
LaVILLE 56, PRAIRIE HEIGHTS 35
Prairie Heights: 8 10 26 35
LaVille: 12 28 45 56
PRAIRIE HEIGHTS (35): Jacob Heller 18, Kyler West 8, Zach Shepard 5, Landon Wohlers 2, Dylan Stayner 0, Bobby Blum 0, Corey Johnson 0, Jackie Owens 0, Carsten Everidge 0, Joey Barry 0, Terry Tanner 0, Levi Tuckerman 0; Totals: 14 3-8 35
LaVILLE (56): Cam Gurtner 2, Blake Berger 12, Landon Manuel 0, Ryan Bettcher 2, Kyle Kopetski 0, Jeff Haygood 7, Zach Hostetler 0, Andrew Hostetler 17, Alec Baker 2, Nicholas Amor 12, Alex Steinke 0, Isaac Eash 0; Totals: 20 13-18 56
3-pointers: PH 4 (Heller 2, West 2), LaVille 3 (A. Hostetler 2, Berger); Rebounds: PH 23 (Heller 6, Shepard 6), LaVille 23 (Haygood 7, Amor 5); Turnovers: PH 15, LaVille 9; Assists: PH 4, LaVille 16 (Berger 3, Amor 3); Steals: PH 1, LaVille 9 (Berger 4); Fouls: PH 16, LaVille 11.
Records: LaVille 17-6, Prairie Heights 11-12 (final).