L-Cats clinch first conference title
LAKE MILLS — Break open the record books.
For the first time in school history, the Lake Mills girls basketball team are conference champions.
Sophomore point guard Julianna Wagner led all scorers with 22 points, including 16 in the first half, and sophomore wing Jade Pitta recorded 14 of her 16 points after halftime to push the L-Cats past visiting Luther Prep 61-45 in a Capitol North game on Friday.
Lake Mills has had three regional championship squads, most recently in 2008, but never a conference championship winning team until this underclassmen-laden group.
“That’s something we’ve talked about now for a year and a half with especially this sophomore group and now this freshman group,” Lake Mills head coach Brandon Siska said. “They’ve been working together for a long time. They work their tails off. They’re in the gym all the time. It’s the hardest-working group I’ve ever coached. I’m blessed to coach them and I love coaching this group. I’m so proud of them.”
“Winning a conference championship especially when you don’t have any upperclassmen isn’t an easy feat. To be the first ones to hang some numbers on that banner is pretty special. Just so proud of the kids. Having Sam (Herrington) and Bobby Rose to coach this year has been a huge help, my assistants are awesome. A great team effort and we are proud for the community. We talked about it, the game is bigger then the team right now. Every player and coach before them has tried to do this so, this is for them too.”
Lake Mills (16-5, 8-2 in conference) has relied on balanced scoring all season with four players averaging in double-figures, led by Wagner at 13 points a game, and despite not possessing a deep rotation, the L-Cats found a way to win three league games in five days to clinch a share of the conference crown.
“It just feels really good,” Pitta said. “The whole team pushed together for this. We couldn’t have done it without everyone pushing this whole season. It feels good to know we are the first ones. We are only here because of everybody before us.”
“It feels really good,” sophomore guard Taylor Roughen said. “We’ve been wanting this since we were in fourth grade. It’s really big for us to get this now. A lot of emotions going around, it’s really exciting.”
The Phoenix had a slim 29-27 lead at halftime before Pitta and sophomore center Vivian Guerrero started to take over.
Guerrero hit two shots in the lane to commence Lake Mills’ second-half scoring and Pitta scored the next five, including a 3-pointer, to give the L-Cats a 36-31 edge with 13 minutes remaining.
Lake Mills used a 6-0 run behind a layup from Guerrero and four points from Pitta to build an 11-point lead midway through the half.
Pitta knocked down a 3-point shot from the top of the key that forced a Luther Prep timeout with the L-Cats up 49-37.
Wagner found Guerrero cutting to the basket for two and made a transition layup off a turnover to push the lead to 53-38 with 5:55 to go.
Guerrero scored four more points down the stretch, to push her point total to 14, and Roughen dished to Pitta in the lane to pretty much seal it.
“Since we’re all like the same age we know each other well and we communicate really well,” said Roughen, who finished with nine points. “That helped us win this game. Now we have to keep going and hopefully continue this streak and get it next year too.”
Freshman forward McClain Mahone was the primary Lake Mills defender tasked with slowing down freshman Grace Schmidt, the conference’s second-leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, who was held to five points.
“Our game plan was to shut her down,” Siska said. “So far this year, McClain’s numbers don’t show the capability she has scoring. She’s a capable scorer. She’s had a tough task as a freshman as she gets caught on their best player a lot of times. Her defense and rebounding this year are a big reason we are going to hang some numbers on that banner. Proud of McClain the way she has been unselfish and sacrificed the offensive side for the betterment of the team.”
Senior guard Ally Goba scored 14 points, including three first-half 3-pointers, and sophomore guard Lauren Paulsen and senior forward Abbie Burke each scored nine for Luther Prep (10-8, 3-6).
The Phoenix couldn’t sustain the offense needed to hang around in the final 18 minutes.
“We just kind of got out of sync in the second half,” Luther Prep head coach Mark Schroeder said. “They did a nice job. That’s a good, quality basketball team. We just couldn’t put it together for two halves. We played one good half but couldn’t put it together for the second.”
Defending Lake Mills’ perimeter-oriented offense with quick, aggressive guards proved to be a challenge.
“We definitely talked about all the closeout help we were going to need,” Schroeder said. “That’s the thing about Lake Mills, they can beat you off the three and off the drive. They have some girls who are some of the quickest in the league. They give defenses fits. Between Roughen, Wagner and Pitta slashing to the hole, you have to play two halves of basketball to beat a time like that.”
The L-Cats are winners of three straight and nine out of their last ten to close out the regular season. Lake Mills sits a half game ahead of Lodi (14-5, 7-2) in the Capitol North. The Blue Devils conclude conference play on Tuesday at Luther Prep with a chance to join the L-Cats atop the standings.
Luther Prep travels to Johnson Creek today at 2 p.m.
Luther Prep plays at Rio today at 7:15 p.m.
There will be plenty to remember about this night for the L-Cats.
“We came in and knew we had to do it for all the other generations,” Wagner said. “It’s just a relief we could do it our sophomore year and hopefully keep doing it our other years.”
“I’ll remember the coaches yelling the whole time and the student section,” Roughen said. “Our team was constantly cheering for us and picking each other up. We were just loud the entire time, that’s what I’ll remember most.”
Lake Mills will have close to two weeks off before the playoffs start to ready themselves for potentially writing another chapter in the history books.
“It’s pretty wild to have a bunch of underclassmen win the first conference championship in the history of the school,” Siska said. “We’re not done. We have work to do with playoffs coming up in two weeks. We’re playing really good basketball right now and will get ready in the next couple of weeks and see if we can make a run.”
LAKE MILLS 61, LUTHER PREP 45
Luther Prep 29 16 — 45
Lake Mills 27 34 — 61
Luther Prep (fg-ft-tp) — Goba 5-0-14, Paulsen 2-4-9, Glisper 2-0-4, Burke 4-1-9, Hirsch 2-0-4, Schmidt 2-0-5. Totals 17 5-8 45.
Lake Mills (fg-ft-tp) — Roughen 3-2-9, Wagner 10-2-22, Pitta 6-1-16, Guerrero 5-4-14. Totals 24 9-10 61.
Three-point goals — LP, Goba 4, Paulsen, Schmidt; LM, Pitta 3, Roughen.
Total fouls — LP 9, LM 6.