Chesty Lions hold on for sweep of two close wins against LVHS
The truth is that the Leavenworth High girls' basketball team is now, the hunted.
After a half decade of dominance, roster turnover has made the Pioneers a team many long-time opponents felt might be vulnerable this campaign.
Well, ain't that a bit of a stretch?
In a battle between two of highest ranked teams in the state's two, biggest classes, Leavenworth (4-2, 1-1) led the Lawrence Chesty Lions for most of Thursday night's game, before inexperience and subsequent missed opportunities would lead to a comeback, 43-41 Lawrence win in the teams' last game of the 2017 portion of the schedule.
“We had some growing pains mentally and had some brain farts at crucial times, but those things you grow with,” LVHS head coach Derek Bissitt said. “The free throw line was tough for us tonight. Nobody misses free throws on purpose, like no one loses on purpose. There are just some things we need to clean up and we have to finish games like this.
“They have four or five seniors versus us having one senior. It’s not a gloom and doom picture, because we went out and competed. Hopefully we mentally grow from it and get better.”
Cierra Robinson led Leavenworth with 11 points while Alyche Brown and Alexis Cole each contributed eight points apiece. They were nipped by the yips at the free throw line by going 5-for-18 in the defeat.
Robinson noted that the team is full of first-timers experiencing their first, true nervous game on their home floor against a top threat.
“It’s bittersweet, it stinks to lose, we haven’t lost to them in six years and we have now, but it was a close game, we played hard and I am happy we played as a team,” Robinson said. “We just had a couple of mental errors here and there. Free throws killed us, but overall we had each others’ backs. I love this team.
“The Sunflower League…people are going to be in for a rude awakening for counting us out and we just showed we can hang and we were beating them for most of the game. We can hang with you guys, we should have beat you guys. It’s just a few, little mistakes and it’s early in the season. This give us great confidence. We did lose, but it showed you have a 6-2, 6-3 (tall players) and we can do it too. We can push, guard the heck out of you full court…we just have to make free throws. Everybody played hard and I can’t say anyone let up.”
A lot of talk circulated in the buildup to the matchup as the No. 2 team in both 6A and 5A would match wits before the holiday break and for most of the preceding days the Pioneers heard that this game would bring them back to earth after a 4-1 start.
Well all the hosts did was shoot the moon from the opening tip, racing out to a 7-0 lead, a 9-4 advantage after one quarter and 22-4 midway through the second eight minutes.
However, the Lawrence girls would find their mojo finally as they exerted their superior size and eased back to within 24-16 going into the halftime break.
Lawrence would spend the entire second half whittling away at the lead with the Pioneers finding the right response to keep their edge intact.
LVHS could have been up even more if not for a plethora of missed free throws and too many given up offensive rebounds.
With 3:19 to go, the Chesty Lions pulled within 38-36 on a free throw and once again this new-look LVHS team was tested.
Then Pioneer post and the team's biggest player, McKenzie Brown fouled out and that would make the next 180 seconds even more eventful.
A couple bad shots, some missed free throws and turnovers by both teams gave way to a fast break layup for Lawrence and the game was tied at 1:33.
An Alyche Brown free throw gave LVHS its last lead of the game as Lawrence countered with a layup and a steal of the ensuing inbounds pass to eventually go up 42-39.
Alyche Brown added two free throws with five seconds left to pull the hosts to within 42-41 before the Lions added the final point and held off a last second attempt to tie that fell short for Leavenworth.
Pioneer boys battle behind improved look
Improvement is key going into a holiday break and thankfully for the Leavenworth High boys’ team, there were plenty of signs of it Thursday night.
Yes, they ultimately fell 63-57 to Lawrence to fall to 1-5 overall and 0-2 in Sunflower League play, but the Pioneers played their most complete game of the year heading into the holiday time out.
Leavenworth was led by Tah-Ji Pinch’s 13 points as did Kenny Payne while Zach Thiel and Nathan Dalby each scored nine points and Michael Sauer was noted for a tremendous defensive performance.
What hurt LVHS was its propensity to give up game-changing runs by Lawrence to keep the fighting Pioneers at bay.
“They go on the runs because on the offensive end, we don’t give ourselves a chance to play defense,” Leavenworth head coach Larry Hogan said. “Why settle for a 3-pointer early in the possession when you have people going to rim, you have cutters, you make the defense work, get them out of position and then attack them. When you take the first shot available that’s what (the other team) wants you to take.”
There was no doubt that Leavenworth came to this game with the intent to beat Lawrence in the last incantation of this long-time rivalry in its era of Sunflower League play.
Leavenworth made its presence known early even if they trailed 15-9 at the end of the first quarter against the defending 6A runners up, with hustle and a willingness to go to the grind and make Lawrence work to play.
In the second quarter the Pioneers made a nice push to go up 21-19 midway through the period before the Chesty Lions went on a 13-4 run to go up 32-25 at the break.
It was that lost opportunity to build on their momentum where the Pioneers may have let the game get away.
I felt we gave it away in the first half with some bad shots and they were helped by our offense taking quick shots, one pass and jacking up a three and not making them play defense,” Hogan said. “At that point (leading) is when you have to shut them down. That’s when it’s time to establish it’s going to get tougher on the other end, not easier.”
Lawrence held the same margin going into the fourth quarter, but saw the lead trimmed to 48-46 on a 3-pointer by Nathan Dalby and a layup by Pinch.
Lawrence used another run to bump its edge back up to 7-9 points and the hosts could not recover from there.