WHITEHOUSE - While reeling off 22 straight victories this season, the Lake Flyers had been the model of composure and precision. They executed their offense with a sense of purpose, and it got results.
In Saturday night's Division III district final against No. 1-ranked Liberty-Benton, the Flyers stuck with what got them this far, but it was the Eagles that prevailed by a 39-28 score in a battle of unbeaten teams.
The two were tied at 28 when the third quarter ended, but Liberty-Benton locked down its defense and shut out the Flyers over the final period and moved to 23-0 on the season. Lake, which saw its unbeaten streak snapped for a second straight year in a matchup with Liberty-Benton, ends its season at 22-1.
"We kind of panicked there in the fourth quarter," Lake coach Denny Meyer said. "But they're a great defensive team. We played the No. 1 team in the state, and they are going to make teams panic."
Lake was very deliberate with its offense from the opening tip, running off the first 1:16 of the game without taking a shot. The Flyers stayed with that approach, content to work the ball out front and patiently wait on a scoring opportunity.
"They kept running their sets and were very deliberate about every offensive possession," Liberty-Benton coach Nate Irwin said. "We are used to scoring a lot, but we didn't expect to score a lot against them. We just had to stay disciplined and stay solid with our defense, and I think we did that."
The teams were even at 9 at the end of the first quarter, but two driving baskets by Jessica Abbey allowed the Flyers to take a 14-11 lead a little over halfway through the second period. Scores by Amanda Hyde and Caite Craft gave Liberty-Benton a 17-16 margin at the half.
"It was definitely a different tempo than we are used to," Hyde said, "but our defense has won us some games this year, and that turned out to be the case tonight. It was a challenge every time they had the ball, because they were so patient, and we needed to guard them and stay with them."
Lake, which dropped a 45-41 game to Liberty-Benton in last year's district final, moved out to a 20-17 lead early in the third quarter as Kaysie Brittenham scored off an offensive rebound and Abbey connected on another drive, but Liberty-Benton answered with a 3-pointer from Craft and a basket by Hyde in traffic.
Kimberly Meyer knocked in a couple of triples to put Lake back on top 26-23, and after Amber Petersen answered with a 3-pointer for the Eagles, the teams were on their way to a 28-all tie after three quarters.
Lake stayed deliberate on offense, but a pair of five-second calls and two offensive fouls in the final period hampered the approach. Craft nailed a triple from the baseline to give L-B the lead for good with six minutes to play, and when the Eagles moved into the bonus a few seconds later, Lake was really backed into a corner.
"Once we got into the bonus, I felt pretty good about our chances, because we're a pretty good foul-shooting team," said Hyde, who hit four free throws in the final minute as the Eagles put the game away.
"We put ourselves in a tough spot there in the fourth quarter," Lake's Meyer said. "We wanted to slow it down, but I wasn't happy that we didn't attack the basket more."
Hyde had 17 points to lead the Eagles, while Craft added 13. Lake was led by Abbey with nine, and Meyer with eight.
"It's tough, but you have to beat good teams to make it to state," Lake coach Meyer said. "I felt that if we could get by this game, we would have a good chance to make it to the state. We're disappointed, but at the same time we had a great season."
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