Defensive-minded Lions surge past SM East
The best offense for the Lawrence High girls basketball team came as a result of its suffocating defense in a 57-34 win over Shawnee Mission East in the Class 6A sub-state semifinals on Tuesday at LHS.
After hitting the Lancers with a 9-0 run to begin the game, the Lions’ offense went into a lull for the remainder of the first half. With shots suddenly not falling for the Lions, East countered with a 10-0 run to surge in front. The defensive breakdowns for Lawrence didn’t last long, though, as the Lions (17-4) limited the Lancers (2-19) to two points in the second quarter. The Lions took a 22-14 halftime lead into the locker room before opening the floodgates after the break.
“In the first half, we weren’t really playing our game on offense. We were just getting sped up playing their game,” senior E’lease Stafford said. “In the locker room, we talked about how we just needed to settle down and play our game. If we play our game, no one can match that — especially on defense when we start talking to each other. That’s what got us going because we started getting steals, and that led to layups and fouls and getting to the free-throw line.”
Stafford helped put the Lancers away with 10 of her game-high 18 points coming in the fourth. The East Tennessee State signee made 9 of her 10 shots from the charity stripe, and was right in the mix defensively with four steals. Stafford also scored 25 points in the Lions’ 50-38 win over SM East on Jan. 30.
“They can’t get in front of her, so they just hack the crap out of her. Luckily tonight they were able to make some calls where she was able to shoot free throws,” Lawrence coach Jeff Dickson said. “She’s had games where that has happened and she doesn’t even shoot a free throw. Ideally she’s open and getting shots without getting body shots constantly, but she’s going to find a way to manufacture points for us and she has to do that for us to be successful. Whatever it takes is what we’ll do.”
Junior center Chisom Ajekwu also garnered a lot of the Lancers’ attention, but she still finished with a double-double after logging 13 points and 10 rebounds. Ajekwu’s biggest contributions on the defensive end came in the form of three blocked shots.
With SM East’s defense trying to clog the lane to contain Ajekwu, juniors Hannah Stewart and Leslie Ostronic found themselves open on the perimeter. Stewart drilled two 3-pointers in the third quarter, and Ostronic led the Lions with three triples. Ostronic joined Stafford and Ajekwu in double figures with 10 points.
“The more that those go in, the more confidence those guys will have for us. Then you have to pick your poison,” Dickson said. “If you want to triple team Chisom, well then we’ll just knock down shots from the outside and then we can hit a whatever run that it was that just buried them. As long as we’re making those shots, we’re going to be pretty tough to guard.”
The Lions were firing on all cylinders again offensively in the fourth, as they out-scored the Lancers, 19-5, to build a 30-point lead prior to the starters being subbed out.
The Lions advanced to their fourth straight sub-state title game. Lawrence will play host to Olathe South (14-7) at 7 p.m. Friday. The Lions closed the regular season with a 42-27 win over the Falcons on Friday at LHS.
“We’re going to have to play tough and smart all four quarters,” Stafford said. “We can’t let up one quarter because that can cost us the game. One mistake can blow your season away, so we’re going to have to play mentally strong and tougher for all four quarters if we want to go back to state.”
SM EAST (34)
Kathleen Stanley 1-7 0-0 2, Reece Althouse 3-9 1-3 8, Libby Frye 2-4 0-0 5, Jordan Yowell 3-9 3-4 10, Sarah Bingham 1-9 0-0 2, Toni England 2-2 0-0 5, Camryn Gossick 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 13-42 4-7 34.
Hannah Stewart 2-5 0-0 6, Leslie Ostronic 3-5 1-2 10, Talima Harjo 1-5 0-0 2, E’Lease Stafford 4-12 9-10 18, Chisom Ajekwu 6-11 1-2 13, Sammy Williams 1-7 2-7 4, Tyrin Cosey 0-3 1-2 1, Asia Goodwin 0-0 0-0 3, Sophie DeWitt 0-0 0-0 0, Ella Stewart 0-0 0-0 0, Oze Ajekwu 0-1 0-0 0, Evann Seratte 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-51 14-23 57.
SM East 12 2 8 12 — 34
Lawrence 16 6 14 21 — 57
3-point goals: SM East 4-17 (Yowell, Frye, Athouse, England); Lawrence 7-15 (Ostronic 3, Stewart 2, Stafford, Goodwin). Fouled out: Camryn Gossick, SM East. Turnovers: SM East 12, Lawrence 10.