Girls Basketball: Lake Central cool under pressure vs. West Side; East Chicago tops Munster
By John O’Malley Post-Tribune correspondent February 6, 2013 11:06PM
Lake Central's Jessica Bell (right) tries to pass around West Side's Reunshanil Washington in the first half of their first round of the Class 4A sectional game in Munster, Ind. Wednesday February 6, 2013. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 7:50AM
MUNSTER — The way Tara Zlotkowski sees it, nerves only occur without preparation.
“We were prepared for this,’’ Lake Central’s sophomore point guard said after handling West Side’s pressure defense with great aplomb and sinking 11 of 12 free throws overall, including 8-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
Zlotkowski scored a game-high 21 points, leading Lake Central (14-7) to a 51-41 victory over West Side (17-4) in the Class 4A Munster Sectional on Wednesday night.
The defending champion, East Chicago Central (12-10), beat the host Mustangs in the first game, 56-44, and will play the Indians in Friday night’s second semifinal game.
If not for the play of Zlotkowski, however, the Indians might not have had an opportunity to return to Saturday night’s title game for the sixth straight year.
“Tara did an outstanding job tonight,’’ LC coach Marc Urban said. “She only had two turnovers and she really handled their pressure well. She looked to score and made her free throws.’’
Urban was concerned about West Side’s athleticism and for good reason. The extremely athletic Cougars turned up the pressure on LC regularly, but the Zlotkowski and her teammates handled it well.
“We told the girls we wanted them to attack, attack, attack, and I thought for the most part, they did,’’ Urban said.
Lake Central missed its first six free throws in the fourth period, but then drained 10 of their final 11, which basically helped provide the margin of victory. Zlotkowski made eight of those 10 in the crucial and decisive fourth period.
“We practice them all the time,’’ she said. “I knew they really needed to go in and that I could make them. It was just a matter of concentrating and relaxing.’’
Zlotkowski said she and her teammates were expecting West Side’s pressure defense, but said the Indians were prepared for it and poised to handle it.
“Obviously, we expected it and knew it would be there,’’ Zlotkowski said. “I’ve really been working a lot on my ballhandling. We handled the pressure well as a team and without my teammates we wouldn’t have been able to do it.’’
Jessica Bell scored 11 points for LC, while Gina Rubino added eight — all in the second half — including a pair of crucial 3-pointers in the later stages of the third period that helped give the Indians a 37-30 lead entering the final quarter.
In Wednesday night’s opener, senior guard Dariyelle Ricks scored a team-high 14 points — all after halftime, including nine in the third period, to lead the Cardinals past the pesky Mustangs.
Natisha Jones scored 13 points, and Denitra Brown and Tiajaney Hawkins added 12 and 11 points, respectively.
“Coach told us at halftime that Denitra needed help scoring, so I really tried to pick it up,’’ Ricks said. “I also told my teammates: ‘We have to play hard. We’re the sectional champions from last year, so we have to defend our title. We’re not going to be given it and it’s not going to be handed to us. We have to go out and get it.’ ’’
The Cardinals did exactly that. They overcame a Munster squad that looked poised to pull off an upset when it recovered from a 10-point second-quarter deficit to take a 19-18 halftime lead.
Bernadette Grabowski, who led the Mustangs with 15 points, and freshman Madelynn Moore, who scored 10 points and snatched seven rebounds, fueled Munster’s turnaround.
While the game was tied at 33-all entering the final period, Munster couldn’t get out of its own way. The ‘Stangs turned the ball over repeatedly and the Cardinals took advantage and outscored them 23-11 in the final period.
“It was a horrible fourth quarter,’’ Munster coach Matt Backs said. “It seems like for most of the season this year we’d play really, really well a lot of times, but then it always seemed we’d be bitten by brain-fart, type play. Today, those plays might have happened for more like eight minutes. I’m really proud of these girls. They’ve played really hard for us all season and they’re just a great group of kids.’’
East Chicago Central coach Eric Kundich was pleased to see his team regroup at halftime and come out strong for the final two quarters, and particularly, in the fourth.
“It was a very physical game, but our girls kept taking a punch and fighting back and taking a punch and fighting back,’’ he said. “When we came in at halftime, I asked the girls: ‘This is winner take all and loser goes home. There aren’t any second chances. What do you want to do the rest of the game?’’