Feb. 3—LAPEL — Just because the second time around seemed much easier does not mean it was any less sweet.
That was the consensus among the Lapel girls basketball players after the Bulldogs completed a dominant Sectional 40 championship with a 62-21 rout of Winchester, giving Lapel back-to-back sectional titles for the second time in program history.
"It's the same sweetness, and it's not any easier the second time," coach Zach Newby said. "Tonight, we got to roll, but that's because of the work they've been putting in for years and in the summer. The reason we can be superior in this moment is because we worked for it."
It was the fifth all-time title for Lapel (22-4) after it defeated Winchester (11-14) in the final for the second straight year. It also won championships in 1999, 2000, 2007 and 2023, with the latter coming only after the Bulldogs overcame double-digit deficits in all three victories.
That was hardly the case this time around as Lapel trailed only once, by one point, for a few seconds in the first-round win over Alexandria.
After a somewhat lethargic start to Friday's semifinal win over Wapahani, Lapel gave the Golden Falcons little chance to breathe, removed any hope for an upset and did both very early on.
Defensively, Lapel forced turnovers on four of Winchester's first five possessions while Laniah Wills scored inside and Jocelyn Love and Sophie Goodwin each connected from outside for a quick 8-0 lead.
The 6-foot-1 Wills dominated on the interior with 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, while the Love and Goodwin shots were just the precursor for a night when Lapel connected a total of 10 times from behind the 3-point line.
"We're going to be really hard to beat," Newby said. "If my role players can come out and give us nine-plus, we're going to be really hard to beat in this tournament."
A pair of long-range shots by Poynter and baskets inside from Wills and Love pushed the Bulldogs lead to 20-3 before Winchester made its first field goal.
The Golden Falcons only made four more on the night.
"We pride ourselves on playing defense, and defense travels," Newby said. "We know we have to guard all the time. We're not always going to be able to make shots."
That is not to say there were no concerns.
After taking a 19-point lead into the locker room at halftime, defensive lapses by the Bulldogs allowed Winchester to score five straight points, prompting Newby to call a timeout with 6:02 left in the third quarter.
The coach was vocal in his disapproval and, as if to emphasize the point, slammed his whiteboard on the floor during the break.
"At halftime, all we talked about was that we had to go over the screens," he said. "Twice, we went under ball screens, and they hit threes. It's about being disciplined and executing, not just about playing to score and doing whatever we want."
The message worked.
Out of the timeout, Taylor Mroz hit a 3-point basket, starting a 28-3 Lapel run into the fourth quarter. Wills triggered the running clock as she opened the final period with a 3-pointer of her own, and the run was capped by an AnnaLee Stow drive for two points and a 57-17 lead.
"It changed the mood. We just don't like him yelling at us," Wills said. "When she hit that, we just started doing what he needed us to do and the energy just went up."
"The board is still in one piece," Love said. "We just needed to listen, and it was little things like going over screens. He wanted us to execute because in a closer game, that's going to matter."
Love scored 15 points for the Bulldogs while Poynter added 14 points, three assists and two steals. Goodwin added six points and two assists, and Stow grabbed six rebounds.
Avery Mote led Winchester with 13 points.
Lapel will need to win another rematch in order to continue in the tournament as it will face Sectional 39 champion Eastbrook at next week's regional for the second straight year. The Panthers survived a four-overtime marathon at Elwood to defeat Blackford by four points.
Eastbrook is led by Sophia Morrison, Poynter's future teammate at Grace College, and will look to avenge a two-point loss to the Bulldogs at last year's regional, also at Lapel.
"I love her," Poynter said. "I know Sophia is obviously really good. I haven't watched any film on them yet, so I don't know how they play. I'm just really excited."
The regional assignments and times will be announced by the IHSAA on Sunday.
Contact Rob Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-640-4886.