ST. CHARLES – Heading into Friday night’s DuKane Conference basketball opener against St. Charles East, Lake Park’s defensive strategy seemed simple enough.
“They are a senior-laden team, so we knew a lot of their guys from last year,” Lancers coach Billy Pitcher said. “I thought we had a good game plan on them.”
That plan came to fruition during the Lancers’ 40-32 victory in St. Charles.
Holding the Saints (3-3, 0-1) to 31% shooting from the field (11 of 34), including an abysmal 2 for 16 shooting performance from beyond the 3-point arc, the Lancers (3-2, 1-0) built a 21-10 halftime advantage and didn’t trail the rest of the way.
“I thought we were able to close out and contest and limit them to one shot,” Pitcher said. “One of the keys was not letting them get comfortable.”
Lake Park led 12-8 after one quarter, as Cam Cerese scored four points, while Dennasio LaGioia and Thomas Rochford tallied three points apiece.
At the other end of the court, the Saints misfired on 8 of their first 10 field-goal attempts, including an 0-for-6 effort from 3-point territory.
Things got progressively worse for the Saints in the second quarter, as they were held to a pair of free throws by senior Eddie Herrera (game-high 11 points, six rebounds) while being outscored 9-2.
“Communication was key,” said LaGioia, who finished with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. “Help-side, they’re looking to flare off screens, so we just kept fighting through the screens.”
Herrera’s 3-point play enabled the Saints to claw within 23-16 midway through the third quarter, but the Lancers answered with back-to-back 3-pointers from Jeremy Zakic and Rochford (team-high 10 points), extending the margin to 29-16.
A layup by Steven Call (eight points, six rebounds, two steals) helped pull the Saints within 31-23 with 5:28 remaining.
Once again, Lake Park answered with LaGioia’s acrobatic tip-in and Adrian Notardonato’s driving layup to make it 35-23 with 3 minutes left. Josh Gerber’s layup off a picture-perfect feed from LaGioia with 52 seconds remaining sealed the deal for the Lancers.
“I thought Dennasio was our MVP on both ends of the floor,” said Pitcher, who admitted that play got a little ragged at times.
“It was a real ugly game,” said the coach. “We turned it over a ton (15 times), and it just got really sloppy. Offensively, it couldn’t have gotten much worse in the second half, but our defense and rebounding (30-20 edge on the boards) kept us in it.”
Drew Clarke and Jack Borri scored six points apiece for the Saints.
“We shot 31% from the floor, had 16 turnovers and still only lost by eight points,” Saints coach Patrick Woods said. “Credit Lake Park for maximizing possessions. Defensively, we played solid holding a team to 40 points, but we have to be better on the offensive end.
“I see these guys every day — they’re capable of making these (shots). They’ve got to start believing in themselves more because I believe in them. I told them that my frustration is not toward you — it’s for you.”