Feb. 2—LAPEL — With its win on Groundhog Day, Lapel — unlike Bill Murray's character in the movie named for the holiday — is hoping history will indeed repeat itself this weekend.
The path to a second straight sectional title is the same as a year ago as the Bulldogs shrugged off a mistake-prone first half and defeated Wapahani 44-27 Friday night in the Sectional 40 semifinals on Jimmie Howell Court.
After wins over Alexandria and the Raiders — the same teams it beat in the first two rounds in 2023 — Lapel will face Winchester (11-13) in the Sectional 40 championship game for the second straight year after the Golden Falcons defeated Wes-Del (2-4) 56-15 in the first semifinal Friday night.
That familiar matchup will be played Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
"We have to be ready for that one. They're not going to come in here and lay over," Lapel coach Zach Newby said. "We're going to have to come in with more focus than we did tonight."
Lapel (21-4) did not look like a team ready to make another postseason run after the first 16 minutes plus two possessions against Wapahani (17-8), a team the Bulldogs handled a week earlier in Selma.
Caught off guard by a Raiders defensive surprise, the Bulldogs allowed Wapahani to stay close by committing nine first-half turnovers. Aside from a 9-9 tie at the end of the first quarter, Lapel led the entire first half and limped into halftime with an 18-14 lead after AnnaLee Stow scored in the closing moments.
Wapahani played man defense, something Lapel rarely sees and had not prepared for. If the plan was to put the Bulldogs on their heels, it worked.
"We just didn't know what to do, for some reason," star sophomore Laniah Wills said.
Even that four-point lead evaporated after more Lapel carelessness. Turnovers on the first two Bulldogs possessions of the second half were converted into baskets by Emily Luce and Megan Luce, the latter tying the game at 18-18 and bringing the Raiders' crowd back into the game.
"Taking care of the ball Wednesday was a huge key," Newby said. "You have to meet every pass. You cannot turn it over and give (Alexandria junior) Jacklynn Hosier extra chances to score. We talked tonight that expectation is no different. You can't give Wapahani extra chances to score. We just didn't come out with the same focus."
It was time for Lapel to remember who it is and what an advantage the 6-foot-1 Wills is in the post.
"We haven't gone through man stuff in weeks because nobody plays man against us," Newby said. "They came out in man, and we kind of got shocked. Our kids forgot that when they go man, we dominate in the paint. We throw it to Laniah or AnnaLee in the paint."
The tie did not last long as Wills found a driving lane to put the Bulldogs back on top to stay.
In fact, it started a 12-0 Lapel run through the end of the third quarter, and it became a 15-0 run when Jocelyn Love sank a 3-point basket to begin the fourth quarter and open a commanding 33-18 Bulldogs' lead.
Behind 17 points from Wills after halftime, the Raiders got no closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
She credited Newby as well as senior guard Maddy Poynter — who added 13 points for Lapel — with the halftime reminder.
"Maddy said, 'We need to (isolate) Laniah,' and Newby said the exact same thing," Wills said. "We did that, and I went to the post and started dominating there."
The Luce sisters accounted for 19 of Wapahani's points, and Destiny Felder grabbed 11 rebounds.
Lapel got supportive efforts from Stow with four points and three rebounds and Taylor Mroz, who handed out a team-leading three assists off Newby's bench.
"(Mroz) hasn't had the (scoring) year she would have liked to have had," Newby said. "But she works so hard, I can't tell you how many shots she put up today. ... Tonight, she broke out with them pressuring, made great passes and great decisions."
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