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High School Girls Basketball: Disappointed Lake Shore loses lead to Cheektowaga and falls in semifinal

Miranda Aikin (left), a senior leader for Lake Shore, helped guide the program to its first sectional semifinal in recent history. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

Lake Shore exerted so much energy and passion into building a lead stretched as far as 13 points with a minute left in the third quarter of the Class A-2 semifinal that it simply was left with very little down the stretch of the game.

An athletic Cheektowaga squad took advantage, finishing regulation with 21 of the 29 points scored to force overtime where the Warriors recorded all eight points to escape Wednesday (Feb. 27) at Kenmore West with a 47-39 win and a berth into the sectional championship game.

“We ran out of gas, big time, and we looked slow at the end,” said Lake Shore head coach Andrea Conrad. “We were a heir late to get over and they were bringing the play to us, instead of us bringing it to them. They became the team in charge. We missed lay-ups and our shots were either short or too high off the backboard. Cheektowaga never gave up and they never stopped working, and we were too complacent.”

A sixth-seed coming into the game against No. 2 Lake Shore, Cheektowaga went from a team having trouble just getting the ball up court and into a set offense to one scoring in transition and creating wide open lay-up opportunities in the half court.

Warriors’ head coach Lynnae Fenton believes her team wasn’t mentally focused to begin the contest and needed to play as five on the floor rather than just individuals.

“Instead of buying into the team concept which we worked on in practice, everyone wanted to be the star to get us to the finals,” Fenton said. “Once we were able to make the adjustments at half, talk to them and settle them down and do the things that we know to break the press and break the zone, you saw us slowly start to climb. But it wasn’t easy.”

Conrad couldn’t help but be visibly saddened after the game by what seemed like a lost opportunity for a program playing in a semifinal for the first time in her eight years as head coach.

Not only did the Eagles have a size-able lead in the game, but they had gotten the best of Cheektowaga twice in the regular season and if they moved on, would have played a Pioneer team they also beat twice this season. Cheektowaga went on to fall 50-49 to Pioneer in the final on March 2.

“We had no finish; they were tired,” Conrad said of her team. “We just weren’t confident enough in playing in this position...None of our kids had the experience of playing in the semifinals before.”

Junior captain Mykia Lee turned a steal into a lay-up with 35 seconds left in the game to tie the score at 39. She finished with a game-high 14 points and was one of five scorers in the overtime for Cheektowaga, which took over the game by that point. The Warriors had a chance to end the game in regulation but missed two free throws with eight seconds to play.

Cheektowaga chipped away and tied the game 35-35 as Kenetria Redforn scored four points consecutively to cap a 6-0 run for her team with just over two minutes to play. Redforn finished with 12 points. Andrea Montgomery added eight points and was a guiding force for the team as well, according to Fenton.

While Cheektowaga struggled offensively and with handling Lake Shore’s press up until the second half, Fenton credited the defensive play with keeping the score manageable.

“Our defense kept us in the game while we looked to find that rhythm offensively — it came late but luckily enough not too late,” she said. “With Lake Shore, we knew it was going to be a shootout and we’d have to transition well and have to be able to run the floor or we’d get eaten alive.”

Lake Shore took its last lead of the game as senior guards Michaela Stepniak and Miranda Aikin hooked up for the final time in their high school career. Stepniak converted a lay-up off an Aikin assist to make the score 39-37 with 1:05 remaining in the fourth. The two each scored eight points.
Melanie Linsmair was one of three starting sophomores who give the Lake Shore program continued hope for the future. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

The sophomore duo of Darian Evans and Melanie Linsmair got Lake Shore off to such a hot start and aided the team with nine and eight points, respectively, but were only able to manage one basket between the two in the second half. Fellow sophomore Lindsay Gearhart added six points.

A defensive-minded Lake Shore team was at its best early in the game, taking a 15-4 lead after the opening quarter and 21-12 advantage at halftime by rushing Cheektowaga with a stifling full-court press and turning some of its steals into easy buckets.

However, in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Eagles’ defense was a step slow, while they went 2 for 9 at the free throw line and made only three field goals offensively.

Conrad pointed out just how hard her senior class worked this season to get Lake Shore to 15-5 and a game away from the sectional final, and hopes that the underclassmen follow in those same footsteps.

“And now the underclassmen need to show the same dedication that the seniors did this year,” Conrad said of upperclassmen Josilyn Benton, MacKenzie Ciciera, Stepniak and Aikin. “They were constantly in the gym by themselves shooting baskets. If the younger girls don’t show the same dedication, they won’t see this again.”
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