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Dawgs on Repeat

Feb. 10—LAPEL — For the Lapel girls basketball team, it was not so much a season teetering on the brink of collapse as it was a mission spiraling toward failure. This team, which has made its life's work to return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and win the Class 2A state title it came so tantalizingly close to capturing a year ago, was in trouble Saturday as the Bulldogs looked to clear the regional hurdle against Eastbrook.

When the Panthers took a 41-39 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs stars realized what was happening and made a determination.

The run would not end today.

"I'm a senior. This is my last year, and if I lose, I'm out," Lapel guard Maddy Poynter said. "I've got to put everything on the court, and I knew that when we were down, I had to make something happen."

Poynter answered with a 3-point basket to put Lapel back on top to stay and sparked a decisive 13-point run as the sixth-ranked Bulldogs ran away from the fifth-ranked Panthers for a 59-45 victory, their second consecutive regional title and the fourth in program history.

It was a much more sweet and boisterous celebration the second time around for the Bulldogs, who edged Eastbrook by two points in last year's regional despite most of the team suffering from food poisoning.

"It was so much better. I was definitely tired, but I just needed to get some air in my lungs to scream and celebrate," said Poynter, who scored eight of her 21 points in the fourth quarter. "Last year, we were all dead. It was nice. I really love this moment."

Eastbrook's season ended at 23-3 while Lapel (23-4) will return to Logansport for semistate, the same site the Bulldogs visited a year ago. They will face Fort Wayne Bishop Luers (17-6) at 10 a.m. Saturday morning in the first semifinal before Andrean (13-14) takes on Lewis Cass (22-3) at noon.

The championship game will be played at the historic Berry Bowl at 8 p.m.

After three quarters of a tough, competitive game, Lapel coach Zach Newby felt he needed to challenge the team, which was getting beaten on the offensive glass by a nearly 2-1 margin.

"I said, 'You've got to rebound,'" he said. "I asked my seniors if they wanted to end their careers because they won't rebound."

The Bulldogs answered his call.

After Poynter's triple, Laniah Wills collected a steal and scored in transition, and after a Sophie Goodwin steal, AnnaLee Stow scored on a rebound basket for a 46-41 lead.

The run continued with two free throws and a rebound basket from Wills before Poynter capped the run with a drive to the rim, and what had been a two-point deficit was suddenly an 11-point lead and the Lapel faithful were smelling a return trip to semistate.

"Our whole (student) section was up and clapping. Everyone was clapping. It was loud in here," Wills said. "We just looked around and said, 'Hey, this is going to happen.'"

After Eastbrook's Olivia Howell scored to stop the run, it was up to the Bulldogs to convert free throws during the last two minutes.

Jocelyn Love hit two, Poynter was 1-for-2, Wills made a pair and the Bulldogs salted away the game, going 7-for-8 overall at the free-throw line in the final eight minutes.

And Lapel, which was outrebounded 17-8 at halftime, edged the Panthers 15-13 on the glass in the second half with Wills leading the way with 10 boards.

"I told them we could beat them in transition," Newby said. "Get the ball out and push it in transition, but we didn't rebound. In the fourth quarter, you saw what happens when we defensive rebound."

While the Bulldogs needed just over three quarters to take control offensively, their defense was consistent throughout. They held the Panthers scoreless from beyond the 3-point line in nine attempts.

For the season, Eastbrook shot 44% on just over 20 3-point shot attempts per game.

"Newby told us to keep our heels on the 3-point line and our hands up, and we did exactly that," Wills said. "We closed out. We knew who the shooters were, and we did exactly what we needed to do."

"We know that's what they want to do. They shoot 21 per game," Newby said. "We wanted to take away the 3-point shot, and we did a great job of that tonight."

Moments after her two free throws gave Lapel a 57-45 lead, Wills scored a layup to reach 28 points for the game and 1,000 for her career. She is the ninth girls in Lapel history to do so and the first since Bree Boles, who graduated in 2018 as the second-leading scorer in program history.

IHSAA rules prohibit celebrating the milestone with signs in the crowd or stopping the game as is customary during the regular season.

Wills does not care as she knows there will be time to celebrate later, and there are more important tasks at hand.

"I already said I didn't want them to (celebrate) anyway," Wills said. "It means a lot. I'm a sophomore, and I've only been here two years, but what makes me happier is that I'm just here with my team winning a regional championship.

"History has been made again."

While Wills and Poynter did the bulk of the scoring, it was another banner day for the Bulldogs' role players. Stow — despite being saddled with early foul trouble — finished with eight points, three rebounds, two assists and a key steal that came during the fourth quarter.

It was the kind of under-the-radar type of game the Bulldogs have come to expect from one of the team's senior leaders.

"It's stuff like that. She does the plays that gets everyone going," Newby said. "When this place gets rocking and we're on a run, I don't care how many people they have on their side, that's tough. When that lead got to eight or nine, you could see on their faces they were deflated."

Eastbrook was led by junior Mia Bustos with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Sophia Morrison — who will be Poynter's teammate next year at Grace College — ended her career with 12 points and four assists.

"When our kids are healthy and we get to that fourth quarter, we can put it on you because we still have gas in the tank," Newby said.

Contact Rob Hunt at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4886.