Lake Shore girls basketball has officially arrived. And with a roster consisting of four eight-graders and just one senior, the Eagles could very well be a force to be reckoned with in the foreseeable future.
Wednesday was just the first step for the Eagles, who accomplished what they set out to do: beat the state champions. There was no lack of drama, either.
Trailing 31-21 at halftime and by as many as 15 in the second half, Lake Shore used a closing 18-2 run to dethrone Williamsville South in the Class A Regional Qualifier at Buffalo State, 58-54.
“Even at halftime, when we had quite a few turnovers and we were down by 10, we never counted ourselves out,” Lake Shore coach Andrea Conrad said. “We knew we needed to do the smaller things better and we needed to control the basketball, and we knew we needed to rely on our defense.”
Lake Shore, which is usually a man-to-man team, came out in a 3-2 zone at times to try to confuse South’s offense. It worked, as the Billies scored just two points the last five minutes of the game. The defensive intensity played a huge part in avenging last year’s Class A final loss to South.
“That’s just them. They love to play defense,” Conrad said. “They love to scramble. They love to cause havoc and chaos. They do it to me in my own life, and probably their parents’ lives as well, and they like to continue it on the basketball court.”
Even though the Billies opened the fourth quarter with two quick baskets to go up, 52-40, Lake Shore’s feeling of hope never wavered.
“I felt like the momentum was going our way. I really did,” Conrad said. “I felt like this is it. It’s very hard to play teams three times, and they’ve beaten us twice. I know” South coach Kristen Dolan “has a lot of respect for our program, and vice versa.”
Junior Raeann White sank one of two free throws with 47.7 seconds left to put Lake Shore up, 55-54, its first lead since 4-2. Eighth-grader Noelani Cornfield’s 17 points and White’s 16 (two three-pointers) led the charge.
Foul trouble on South junior Zaria McCullough and senior Brianna Neeley forced Dolan to abandon from South’s half-court trapping defense, which was a huge factor in its building the first-half lead. McCullough and Neeley each picked up three fouls in the first half and fouled out late in the fourth quarter before Lake Shore took the lead.
“Without Brianna and Zaria on the court in crunch time, that’s tough,” Dolan said. “They both have so much experience. … Those have been our two go-to players, so they got into foul trouble early and I had to sit them and switch defenses as a result of that.”
Sophomore Naomi DeBerry led the Billies with 17 points while Neeley had 16.
The Eagles (19-4) will move on to play Our Lady of Mercy (21-3) of Section V in the Far West Regionals at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Rush-Henrietta. It’s Lake Shore’s first time in the state tournament since Conrad’s freshman year at Lake Shore in 1996. That team made it to the state semis.