Feb. 8—LAPEL — The excitement level for the Lapel girls basketball team's home opener in November was at an all-time high.
After all, the Bulldogs were the defending state runners-up, began the season ranked second in Class 2A and were returning home after a three-game road trip that including convincing wins over 2A Winchester and 4A opponents Anderson and North Central.
There was even a buzz about a potential battle of unbeatens in mid-December when top-ranked Eastern Hancock was due to visit the Bulldogs, a buzz that did not die down after Lapel jumped out to a 9-0 lead over Wabash on Jimmie Howell Court.
"We definitely came into the game thinking, 'This team is bad, and we're going to win,'" senior Maddy Poynter said. "That was our thought."
"It was our first home game, and everyone in town came out to watch us," sophomore Laniah Wills added.
But, as the saying goes, "That's why they play the games."
The Apaches — a 35% shooting team for the season — torched the nets at a 49% clip that night, piled up more points than any other team could score against Lapel and stormed back for a 70-65 upset of the Bulldogs. But Lapel coach Zach Newby maintains the problem that night was more of an offensive issue than it was a defensive one.
"That was kind of embarrassing," Wills said.
"When I went back and watched the game, I thought offense was our problem," Newby said. "Scoring wasn't a problem, but we had no flow or patience in our offense.
"(Wabash) shot it really well, but some of those shots were highly contested."
Of Lapel's four losses, the Wabash defeat was the one head-scratching setback for the Bulldogs, who also fell to the 23-1 Royals, 3A No. 1 Hamilton Heights (23-2) and 4A county rival Pendleton Heights as the Arabians earned a split of the two meetings this season.
At season's end, Wabash finished 11-12 and was ranked 49th (of 96 teams) in 2A by the computers, just ahead of Shenandoah, a young team Lapel defeated by 24 points in early January.
It was a sobering reminder to not take any opponent lightly.
"Now we know never to underestimate a team," Poynter said. "They could come out and shoot really good, and we could have an off night. We always have to be prepared."
There were few moments during sectional week in which the defending champions struggled. Lapel stormed through Alexandria, Wapahani and Winchester — winning all three games by double digits — for their second straight sectional championship.
The players — perhaps selectively — do not remember the Wabash game very well.
"I kind of forgot about it. I'm not going to lie," Poynter said.
"I do not bring that game up," Wills said. "I know about it if I'm thinking about who we lost to, but I don't get into it. I'm like, 'That game is not real.'"
Certainly, the Bulldogs righted the ship following the disappointing early season loss. Lapel responded by winning its next seven in a row and later captured a second straight Madison County championship before repeating the sectional title.
That Nov. 14 loss still serves as a motivational tool for Newby, one he breaks out on special occasions.
"f I need to motivate them or tick somebody off, I can always bring up (Wabash)," he said. "That's the biggest thing. Just to remind them if we aren't focused in practice or before a game, if they aren't properly prepared for a game, that's when it gets brought up."
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