The Lansing Lions' girls' basketball team has already made its mark on the 2017-18 season, but Tuesday night offered them an opportunity to put a definitive stamp on the final Kaw Valley League race with an emphatic performance against Kansas City Piper.
The KVL heavies came to Lansing unbeaten and owning an earlier win against the Lions where a 12-0 run in the second quarter ended up making the difference in a Piper win.
Tied midway through the third quarter and with all the momentum on their side, the Lions appeared to have changed the course of history.
Then thanks to another Piper run of play, the Lions' hopes for claiming a KVL title would wash away in a disappointing 66-45 defeat.
Gerenda Smith led Lansing (11-5, 6-2) with 17 points while Taylor Lang and Megan Ernzen added 10 and nine points respectively.
"They came out and punched us in the face in the first half...and I really liked our fight and we came back and tied in the second half," Lansing head coach KC Simmons said. "Then in the second half they punched us in the face and we folded up shop. I hate saying things like that, the game of basketball is a game of runs, but you have to weather the storm better than that."
Piper couldn't have come out any hotter as the Pirates hit everything they put up to break out to a 10-point lead in the game's opening minutes.
It took some time for Lansing to kickstart its confidence battery and slowly they found the right lanes to attack the rim and eventually cut the deficit in half before settling with an 18-10 deficit as the teams headed into the second quarter.
Trailing by 10 in that period, the Lions made a nice run behind physical play on both sides of the floor and pulled within 20-17 on two Ernzen free throws.
Then a Smith follow up in transition with 1:17 left before halftime pulled the Lions to within 25-24.
They would trail at the break, 27-25, but if not for a number of missed box outs and unnecessary turnovers following a Piper faux pas itself, Lansing likely would have led at the intermission.
"With a team like Piper you can't miss out on those opportunities and let them slip through our fingers," Simmons said. "We would get a good stop then turn it over or we would do something good and shoot ourselves in the foot.
"Boxing out, honestly, we threw out that zone and tried to mix it up. Initially we looked good, but maybe we stayed in it too long. It's a lot harder to box out in a zone. We aren't the most physically opposing team so we have to have a more conscious effort to box out every single time."
Lansing started the second half by tying the contest for the first time since it was 2-2 and missed a chance to take the lead moments later.
Then came another fateful Piper run as the Pirates took advantage of the Lansing failed opportunity to wrap the third quarter on a 20-3 bender to shockingly lead 47-30 with a quarter to play.
Lansing, a team open for hard work 24-7, would clearly refuse to give up and they were able to pull within 49-38, but once again a fateful Pirates' run was too much to overcome and Piper would head home as unbeaten as it was when it arrived in town hours earlier.
"We didn't expect their second run, especially after we handled the first one so well and they came back at us again and we didn't fight back as hard," Ernzen said. "We didn't see it coming, but it's Piper, that's what they do. They make run after run and you have to continue to fight.
"(In the second half) we didn't play to our tempo, when in the first half we played fast paced and upbeat and they had to keep up with us. In the second half they made us play at their tempo and slowed us down. Then, being the second half, we thought we didn't have as much time so we tried to speed it up a lot more than we should have. We were playing with the mindset that there was a minute left on the clock when in reality we had plenty of time and should have made them play at our pace."
Lansing boys fall to Pirates
The Piper boys are a very young squad trying to replicate a Class 4A-I state tournament berth just like a veteran team did a year ago.
So far, so good as this group of hard working and fast charging youngsters find themselves in the KVL title mix.
That spelled bad news for the Lansing High boys who stood in the Pirates' way of progress Tuesday night.
Piper led 20-6 after the first quarter and never looked back as it rolled to an easy 71-44 win.
Lansing (4-11, 3-9) was led by Jaden Remington (18 points) and eight points apiece from Konner McQuillan, Caleb Adams and Logan Barnhard.
“It was lulls offensively again and defensively we held them where we wanted them for a long time and we didn’t score,” LHS head coach Mark McQuillan said. “Part of it is inexperience, part of it is not trusting what we are doing still. It’s a battle uphill to make guys understand how to work as five guys together at one time. When we play good and competitive and are in ballgames, we communicate, move the ball well and do the things we need to do well. Basketball is that simple and we have to make it that simple.
“We played soft on defense late in the game and late in the first half. It’s not going to work unless we are willing to give up our bodies, play defense and get in front of people and do enough of the little things.”
After the rough start, Lansing settled in better before halftime and played to a virtual stalemate in the second quarter to trail 32-17 at the intermission.
Piper came out of the lockers ready to take this game apart and it did as the Pirates splashed from three and attacked the tin with authority and would lead 58-31 heading to the fourth quarter.
“(Piper) has some real good shooters and have four or five guys that can flat-out stroke it,” Coach McQuillan said. “It makes you play a little tighter and makes help defense tougher and they have guys that can go to the hole because of that. They are scary athletically.”