LAKE TWP.: Coach Henry Cobb and his Lake girls basketball team knew how much a victory would mean against undefeated North Canton Hoover, which sits atop the Federal League standings.
On Saturday afternoon, the Blue Streaks (12-2, 6-2) handed the Vikings (11-3, 8-1) their first league loss with a 46-40 victory in front of a raucous home crowd, tightening the gap in the race for the Federal League championship.
The game was ultimately decided in the paint, and within the paint, it was a tale of two halves.
Both teams are led by tandems of 6-foot post players. For Lake, it’s senior McKenna Stephens and junior Baylen Dyrlund. For Hoover, it’s juniors Julie Worley and Kaylee Stroemple.
The Vikings set the tone early with Stroemple scoring the team’s first nine points until junior guard Kaitlyn Runner banked in a deep 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Stephens and Dyrlund were held to only four points in the first half as they struggled to get good looks at the basket.
The second half was a different story.
With Stephens playing tough interior defense, Stroemple scored only once more in the game and it didn’t come until the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, it was the best game we’ve played all year,” Cobb said. “I think McKenna is one of the top players in the league. She does a lot of great things offensively but defense is where she really makes a difference.
“North Canton’s strength is their two great post players, so we made it a priority all week to not let those girls beat us, and I thought our team did a great job defensively in shutting those girls down.”
With Lake leading by three points early in the fourth quarter, Dyrlund went to the foul line for a one-and-one attempt.
After converting the first shot, she missed the second but got her own rebound and hit a quick shot to put Lake up 34-27.
Hoover battled back with two baskets by Worley and a 3-pointer by guard Brooke Matinides, but again Dyrlund made the most of a missed free-throw attempt in the clutch.
With 27.4 seconds to go and another three-point lead, Dyrlund made a basket and was fouled. She went to the line with a chance to make it a six-point lead. Dyrlund missed her free throw, but again grabbed her own rebound to prevent any chance of a Vikings comeback.
“Baylen is a real smart basketball player,” Cobb said. “She understands the game and is very athletic.
“She made some important plays for us down the stretch even when she wasn’t scoring. She needs to do a better job at the foul line, but at least she got the rebounds and scored.”
Dyrlund finished with eight points and 12 rebounds. Guard Miranda Diesz led the Blue Streaks with 11 points.
Stroemple finished with 11 points for the Vikings.
Canton McKinley sits between the Blue Streaks and Vikings in the Federal League standings with a record of 10-2, 7-1.
“There is a tight race in the Federal League and we are a part of it right now,” Cobb said.
“It’s exciting. We still have a lot of work to do, but this was a great win for us.”
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