ST. JOHN — Lake Central has played an arduous early schedule, facing three state-ranked teams among its first five games.
When Class 4A No. 10 Penn paid a visit Saturday night, the hard work paid off as the Times No. 3 Indians knocked off the previously unbeaten Kingsmen 51-43.
“It was great competition, and it really got us set for this game (Saturday),” said senior Lauren Smolen, who scored a game-high 15 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Lake Central coach Tom Huppenthal said the schedule prepares his team for February.
“People say, 'Why are you playing that schedule?’ I love it,” he said. “It’s a challenge. You’ve got to be competitive with the kids and you’ve got to get better. If had a chance to do it over, I wouldn’t change it. … We want to play the best here.”
Although saddled with foul trouble for the entire second quarter, Lauren Ladowski finished with 13 points, including sinking six free throws in the fourth quarter to help seal the game.
“I thought Madison Dulski did a real good job of coming in and giving us some minutes, and then I thought we were really solid defensively all night,” Huppenthal said. “That keeps getting better.”
L.C. built on a 29-23 halftime edge with two buckets by Smolen, a 3-pointer from Taiylour Kirkwood, while holding Penn to eight points in the third quarter. L.C. led 40-31 with eight minutes left.
Penn (4-1) cut the deficit to 42-38 in the fourth quarter, but Smolen went up high for a rebound, got a putback bucket and was fouled. The three-point play put L.C. up 45-38 and swung the momentum back to the home team.
“It really got into their gear, and we weren’t giving up,” Smolen said. “It was a great atmosphere, and we all played as a team. I feel like we all work together really well.”
Lake Central trailed 8-0 early, but a 3-pointer by Ladowski tied the game with 2:25 left in the first quarter tied the game at 14-14. That’s where it stood at the first stop.
A basket by Madison Dulski gave L.C. its first lead at 16-14 with 6:35 left in the second quarter, and it upped the advantage the rest of the half. Smolen scored three baskets on the block on all assists to give L.C. a 22-16 lead midway through the second.
“Great assists and great passes,” Smolen said.
Rachael Robards buried a 3-pointer from the corner to put L.C. up 27-23 with 1:18 left in the second quarter. L.C. took a 29-23 lead at the break.
Jordyn Smith led Penn with 14 points.
“Who knows how good this team can be,” Huppenthal said. “We’ve got work to do, but we’ll see.”