TOPEKA — Prior to last week, LaVille had won just two games in the multi-class state tournament. Saturday night’s sectional championship pushes that total up to five and counting.
LaVille put on yet another defensive clinic in the second half, and the Lancers rallied back from a 21-17 halftime deficit to hand the two-time defending champion Warriors a 44-36 Sectional 35 championship defeat on their home court at Westview.
The win ended a 27-year sectional title drought stretching back to the 1985-86 season, and there were more than a few teary eyes on the floor as former players, community members and players shared in the celebration following the historic win, the program’s first since class basketball was implemented in 1997.
The Lancers now advance opposite Bowman Academy in the late semifinal at the North Judson-San Pierre Regional Saturday following a 10 a.m. CT match-up between Fort Wayne Bishop Luers and Boone Grove.
“I look at so many of our former players that came and congratulated me. I saw Jordyn Williams, Cody Kimble, Drew Dutoi, guys like that that had such a huge impact in us getting to where we’re at right now,” said LaVille head coach Michael Edison. “I am happy for our four seniors, but I’m happy for our community. Our community just deserves this. The support they’ve given — we leave the school today and we’re going to have a walkthrough, the whole school was just lining the hallway with it seemed like 100 people just cheering as we’re walking onto the bus. To me that’s like state championship, you’re going to state-type stuff. That was just so humbling, and I was just so appreciative. I almost just didn’t know how to react because it just felt so good that they support us so much.”
“It just wasn’t for our team, it was for the fans, it was for the past teams that got where they needed to be and didn’t win the championship,” said LaVille senior shooting guard Andrew Hostetler. “At the beginning of the season we had one goal and that was to win sectional, so to get here and finally win it means a lot, and I’m glad that everybody came out and supported us the way they did.”
“It’s definitely big. It’s amazing, actually,” said Lancers senior forward Nick Amor. “I couldn’t think of a better group of guys to win it with. Oh man, I’ve been looking at those posters up on the wall since I was a little kid, and I’ve always wanted to have my picture on the wall, and having my picture there with these guys is great. It’s awesome.”
“It’s huge,” echoed LaVille sophomore point guard Blake Berger. “It’s big for the program, our school, our community, everybody. Everybody that comes out and supports us every day, it’s for everyone.”
If the old adage that defense wins championships needed any proving, the Lancers lent plenty of support to the argument Saturday night.
After holding Fremont to a single bucket in the second quarter of the sectional semifinal Friday night, LaVille replicated the feat against a high-powered Westview offense in the third quarter Saturday.
The Lancers’ well-oiled switching man-to-man defense held the Warriors to a 1-of-11 mark from the field in the stanza, and the challengers used a 14-3 frame to jump out to a 31-24 lead over their hosts with one period remaining. Ultimately, LaVille’s defense — ranked seventh in the state — held the Warriors more than 25 points under their average and their lowest offensive output of the season.
“It’s definitely our emphasis,” said Edison of his team’s defense. “Sometimes I’m running practice, and I think I’ve got our practice planned, and I have to revise it because I realize ‘Oh man, I’ve got all defensive drills on here. We’ve got to work a little bit on the offense.’ That’s just kind of how my mind works. I just think that those four seniors — I just think Andrew Hostetler does a tremendous job of getting those guys where they need to be; Jeff Haygood, Landon Manuel, those guys just do so much; Nick Amor, just steady as a rock for us. It’s just fun to play defense and to stop teams with those guys.”
“Coach Edison, he teaches the best defense,” Hostetler said. “We go over defensive drills all practice; sometimes that’s the whole practice. We have a drill where you’ve got to get four stops in a row, and if you don’t get four stops you run a line drill. That was our goal at the beginning of the third quarter — to see how many stops we could get and see how far we could take it.”
Specifically, the Lancers put the clamps on Westview junior Jordyn Bontrager.
The Warriors point guard was on his way to a career night with 12 points in the first half before LaVille’s coaching staff made him an emphasis at the intermission. With Berger in foul trouble, the Lancer bench repeatedly rotated in junior Cameron Gurtner to guard Bontrager, and the defensive stopper — with plenty of help from the rest of the Big Blue defense — held Bontrager to an 0 for 7 mark from the floor during a scoreless second half.
LaVille’s ball pressure and backside defense also kept Westview’s potent frontcourt in check as 6’4” senior Kyle Miller and 6’3” sophomore Chandler Aspy finished with just seven and four points, respectively — more than 16 points under their combined average.
“Pretty much the big thing was we went to the locker room and we talked about how we needed to get Bontrager on angles and we needed to get good chest-ins on Aspy and lower his percentage, and I think we did that,” said Amor. “The third quarter, when that crowd went wild our team got pumped, and it showed on the defensive end.”
“Blake Berger was in foul trouble, and we had to be careful with him on defense because we didn’t want him fouling out,” said Edison. “We were really trying when they’d get those ball screens to really jump out on (Bontrager). We just have a lot of respect for him, the whole rest of the team and what they could do. I don’t know if we did anything magical; we just tried to lower their percentage and make them take difficult shots.
“I like our defense. We didn’t want to foul, but we wanted to make it as difficult as possible, and I thought our guys did that.”
While the Lancer defense stole the show, Hostetler led LaVille on the offensive end with a game-high 15 points for the night. The senior marksman knocked down a trio of treys, his second a corner triple on a Berger reverse pass that gave LaVille its final lead of the night at the 6:12 stop of the third.
Amor notched eight points with five rebounds behind Hostetler’s team-high seven caroms.
Berger — a sophomore and LaVille’s only non-senior starter — dished out three of his team’s five assists to go with 13 points. His traditional three-point play on a pull-up jumper outside the lane capped off a 9-0 lead-changing run to start the second half, a spurt that was sparked by back-to-back triples from Landon Manuel and Hostetler.
“I’m out on the floor with a bunch of seniors, and I’m kind of the facilitator of the offense even though I’m the youngest one,” Berger said. “I just try to get them the ball, but if I have the opportunity to get to the basket or take a shot I feel comfortable because I know that they’ll be there for the rebound, and they won’t get down on me if I miss a shot. It’s a great group of guys, I’m glad I got to play with them. It’s a great season, and I’m ready to play in regional.”
The Lancers pushed their advantage out to 10 at the 5:29 stop of the final frame, and Westview never whittled the lead down to less than six the rest of the night. After Berger split a pair of free throw in the double bonus to keep LaVille’s lead at eight with 34 seconds to play, the home crowd started to filter out of the gym.
Westview was led by Bontrager’s 12, Miller’s seven and Nic Raber’s six points as the Warriors closed out the year at 20-4 with just their second defeat on their home floor.
LaVille moves to 18-6 with its seventh straight win. The Lancers begin the hunt for a first-ever regional title when they play against Bowman at late the North Judson Regional sermifinal Saturday. They are one win away from the program’s all-time winningest season in 1984-85 under head coach Larry Radecki.
• Class 2A Westview Sectional
LaVILLE 44, WESTVIEW 36
Score by quarters
Westview: 9 21 24 36
LaVille: 6 17 31 44
WESTVIEW (36): Jordyn Bontrager 12, Kyle Miller 7, Nic Raber 6, Brett Yoder 5, Chandler Aspy 4, Jamar Weaver 2, Cody Litwiller 0; Totals: 14 5-5 36
LaVILLE (44): Cam Gurtner 3, Blake Berger 13, Landon Manuel 3, Ryan Bettcher 0, Jeff Haygood 0, Andrew Hostetler 15, Alec Baker 2, Nicholas Amor 8; Totals: 13 13-18 44
3-pointers: Westview 3 (Kyle Miller, Yoder, Bontrager), LaVille 5 (Hostetler 3, Manuel, Amor); Rebounds: Westview 25 (Bontrager 6, Kyle Miller 6), LaVille 24 (Hostetler 7, Amor 5); Assists: Westview 3, LaVille 5 (Berger 3); Fouls: Westview 17, LaVille 10.
Records: LaVille 18-6, Westview 20-4 (final).