AP NEWS

Off and running

February 2, 2017

La PORTE — Focused and fired up. That might be the best way to describe the way La Porte’s girls basketball team began its sectional opener Wednesday night.

Not even five minutes in, the Slicers built a 7-0 cushion behind stout defense. They nursed that lead the rest of the night, only allowing Plymouth to briefly go ahead early in the fourth quarter, before taking back control en route to a 51-39 win in a Class 4A La Porte Sectional opener.

“Our energy, and then, our free throws were key,” the Slicers’ Kayla Jones said.

“We were looking for the open person. Not being selfish.”

La Porte (13-10) next meets South Bend Riley on Friday night at roughly 7:30 p.m. CST. The Wildcats beat South Bend Clay 64-41 in Wednesday night’s second game. Michigan City and South Bend Adams face off in Friday’s opener at 5:30 p.m. CST.

Plymouth (13-10) closed the third on a 12-0 spurt, knotting it 26-26 heading to the final quarter.

Then, the Pilgrims briefly took a 29-28 advantage early in the fourth, their first lead of the game. But the Slicers answered, going on 14-5 run to seize back command.

Jones began the spurt with a 3-pointer, her third of the night. Not quite a minute later, Riley Ott drilled a trey, making it 34-30. And then, a little over a minute later, Jacqui Leal hit a 3-pointer, giving La Porte a 37-32 lead with 3:11 left. From there, the Pilgrims never got closer, as the Slicers converted their free throws and continued to play reliable defense.

“We only have one senior in the starting lineup,” La Porte coach Rob Walker said. “But we have sectional championship experience. Having experience in big games pays off. Plymouth’s a good team and they made a run. And we responded well in that fourth quarter.”

The Slicers avenged a 45-39 home loss to the Pilgrims on January 10.

As a team, La Porte finished 14-for-18 from the charity stripe in the fourth.

For the game, Ott went a perfect 10-of-10 on free throws, including making all six of her attempts in the final quarter.

“Going 10-for-10 this game was big,” Walker said. “Anytime you can knock your free throws down in big games… It’s the little things that win big games.”

As a team, the Slicers went 20-for-26 on free throws.

Ott paced La Porte with a game-high 21 points, and Jones scored 12. Jacqui Leal and Janelle O’Neal both had six points, with all of Leal’s points in the fourth.

After Plymouth took the lead at the outset of the fourth, the Slicers clawed back.

“Coach wanted the ball in my hands,” Ott said. “But if you have an open teammate, you have to give that up. So if I didn’t have the shot, I was looking for Jacqui (Leal) for three, because she’s been hitting lately.”

Jones, a mere freshman, provided a big boost in the game.

“Kayla (Jones) was amazing how she came in and hit those threes,” Walker said. “But then, she adjusted and became more of a point guard later on. So I like that.”

Jones added she was primarily concentrating on defense and helping her squad any way she could.

“My mindset was play the best defense I could,” Jones said. “And keep my team in the game.”

Walker added Janelle O’Neal had been fighting the flu this week, and it was a game-time decision whether to start her.

“Boy, did she respond,” he said of O’Neal. “She went 3-of-4 from the floor and she had some big rebounds.”

O’Neal finished with seven boards.

La Porte’s defensive pressure was aggressive, forcing some turnovers, including six in the second quarter.

The Slicers raced out to a 7-0 lead, holding Plymouth scoreless for the first five-and-a-half minutes of the opening quarter. They were ahead by as many as eight in the first period, 10-2, after Jones’ second 3-pointer with 1:59 left, and 12-4, following Tamisha Jackson’s putback with 1:13 to go. Plymouth trimmed the margin to four early in the second, 12-8, but the Slicers didn’t let it get any closer until late in the third.

At the break, La Porte led 21-14.

CeCe Robinson led Plymouth with 11 points, while Claire Tanner had nine points.

CLASS 4A La PORTE SECTIONAL

La PORTE 51, PLYMOUTH 39

La PORTE (51)

Pierro 0-0 0-2 0, Ott 4-11 10-10 21, West 0-3 3-4 3, Woodard 0-0 0-0 0, Leal 1-5 3-4 6, Flowers 0-0 0-0 0, Steppe 0-1 1-2 1, Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, O’Neal 3-4 0-0 6, Jones 3-6 3-4 12. Totals 12-32 20-26 51.

PLYMOUTH (39)

Tanner 3-3 2-4 9, Peters 1-4 0-2 2, Cook 1-4 2-2 5, Reichard 1-3 3-4 6, Nifong 0-3 0-0 0, Quissell 1-1 0-2 2, Robinson 3-8 5-7 11, Holiday 2-2 0-0 4, Flynn 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-28 12-21 39.

La Porte`12`9`5`25`— 51

Plymouth`6`8`12`13`— 39

3-point shooting — La Porte 7-20 (Ott 3-8, West 0-1, Leal 1-5, Jones 3-6), Plymouth 3-9 (Tanner 1-1, Cook 1-2, Reichard 1-2, Nifong 0-3, Robinson 0-1). Total fouls — La Porte 17, Plymouth 23. Fouled out — None. Turnovers — La Porte 10, Plymouth 15. Records — La Porte 13-10, Plymouth 13-10.