February 15, 2012 - By Joe St. Henry
Junior Melanie Heath leads a fast break with sophomore Nicole Krier close behind against Birmingham Groves. Photo by J. St. Henry (click for larger version)
It would be easy to chalk up the Lake Orion girls' basketball team's success in the second half of its games lately to coaching adjustments.
But Head Coach Steve Roberts thinks that is only part of the story. He gives more credit to the girls' mental toughness and tenacity.
Both were on display last week with wins over Birmingham Groves, 38-33, and Farmington, 43-35. The victories gave the Lady Dragons sole possession of second place in the OAA White Division, with an 8-3 league record (11-5 overall).
"These games have been competitive," he said. "We just grind them out and have turned tight contests in our favor."
Against Groves on Feb. 7, Lake Orion's offense started uncharacteristically strong. The game's opening quarter resembled a track meet with both teams scoring seemingly at will. After the first eight minutes, Lake Orion led 14-12.
Both offenses bogged down in the secord quarter, however, with each team only scoring five points.
"Groves switched to a trap-zone press in the second quarter and we struggled somewhat," Roberts said. "I think we had 13 turnovers at halftime, after only a couple in the first quarter."
Lake Orion's offense continued to struggle in the third period and Groves actually took the lead by one point with eight minutes to go in the game. Roberts said the team reduced its turnovers, but could not hit its shots.
That is when the Lady Dragons put together a now too-familiar second-half run, outscoring the Falcons 8-2 to open up the fourth quarter. A three-point basket by Groves, however, cut the lead to two and kept the outcome in doubt.
But Lake Orion visited the free throw line often toward the end and converted. Senior Laura Turnbull went six for six from the charity strip during the game, with sophomore Nicole Krier also adding three key free throws down the stretch. Lake Orion finished 16-19 at the foul line.
"At one point during the fourth quarter, we were close to the bonus, so I told the girls to attack the basket," the head coach said. "We then hit our free throws at a crucial point of the game."
Senior Marisa Secontine finished with ten points and sophomore Nicole Krier nine. The coach also noted the play of junior Emilie Kipp, who had five points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots, as well as junior Melanie Heath, who took a critical charge at the end of the game - keeping the ball out of the Falcons' possession.
Last Friday, Lake Orion traveled to Farmington without Turnbull, who was out sick after dental surgery.
Roberts characterized the game as a "battle" and noted his team's mental toughness to keep the game close despite being shorthanded.
Going into the final quarter, the Lady Dragons trailed 28-24 but went on another patented run, ouscoring their opponent 19-7 to win the game.
A key to the victory was Lake Orion's ability to control Farmington's two best players, Roberts said. During the final period, he switched Heath on one who scored nine points in the first half, but was limited to just two in the second.
"We did a nice job containing their best players when it counted and forcing their other kids to try and beat us," he said.
Secontine led all scorers with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Heath finished with eight points and freshman Hannah Hamay scored seven.
Roberts called Heath and Kipp the game's difference makers, hitting key free throws and blocking shots. (The team finished 17-27 from the foul line.)
He also noted the strong play of freshman Megan Hall, who stepped in to give multiple players rest and contributed strong defensive play, according to the coach.
"The team is starting to come together," Roberts said. "You always want your next game to be your best, but we are playing pretty good right now."
This week, Lake Orion played Troy in a non-division game on Monday and then squares off against Farmington Hills Harrison on Thursday, at home.