After losing to Oak Harbor on Feb. 3, the Danbury Lakers were in a bit of a funk. Sitting at 8-10 with injuries to three of their top players, Danbury could’ve easily folded and limped into the postseason. But instead, the Lakers rose to the occasion, winning six straight games, culminating with their 40-37 victory over Cardinal Stritch in the Division IV Sectional Final last weekend at Genoa High School.
Behind 21 points from Erin Lavelle, 16 of which came in the second half, Danbury, which split with the Cardinals during the regular season, raced out to an 8-0 lead in the first quarter and led 8-2 heading into the second quarter.
The Lakers pushed the lead to 18-9 at halftime, but held just a slim 26-24 advantage after three quarters. In the final period, Stritch rallied to take the lead, holding a three-point advantage with3:30 to play before Lavelle took over and led her team to victory. Lavelle, who scored 12 of her team’s 14 points in the fourth quarter, scored a basket to cut the deficit to one and then converted on two free throws to give Danbury the lead for good and help them win their first sectional crown since 2008.
Alex Perram and Megan Stephans chipped in with five points apiece to help pace the Laker attack and CeCe Gozdowski led the Cardinals with 16 points.
“When we need something to happen, Erin’s done it for us,” Danbury head coach Joe Fetzer said. “She’s now 15-of-17 from the free-throw in the fourth quarter of the last two games.”
Fetzer, who is in his second stint as head coach and was part of the staff during the program’s heyday in the 1990s, has had a long relationship with this group.“They are great kids and they take care of each other,” said Fetzer, whose staff includes Ryan Beam, Drew Wicks, Adam Steinbrick and Larry Indorf. “(The seniors) take care of the younger kids. They’re great leaders, great role models. I’ve worked with these kids on basketball since the fifth and sixth grade and it’s been great watching them grow up. I couldn’t be prouder of them. They’re all-around great kids.”
Lavelle spoke about the thrill of winning a sectional title and cutting down the net with her fellow seniors, a group that includes Tori Wright, Cassidy Rhodes and Kayla and Alyssa Almendinger. “I never thought I’d get there,” said Lavelle. “I never thought I’d go out with a bang in my senior season. I’m not ready for this season to end. I’ve been playing with these girls since fifth grade. I’m so excited about this.”
Assistant athletic director Bryan Dudash spoke about how much of a thrill it was for the school and the tight-knit community of Marblehead to win a sectional title. “The crowd was great,” Dudash said. “We had a full contingent there. People were so supportive of the girls. (And) the girls played hard and got after it.”
On the bus ride home, the team was given a police escort after taking the exit off of Route 2 to get home. From there, police sirens were blazing as the bus and other members of the community traveled back to the school. “I thought Monsoon Lagoon was on fire or something,” Lavelle joked. “It’s awesome to know our community is behind us. It was nice to know that people are following us and care about us.”
It was a special moment for Dudash, who has been at the school for four years and has two step daughters on the team. “I’ve played in state playoff (football) games, I’ve coached in big games, I was with Medina Buckeye several years ago when we went 10-0, and this was better,” Dudash said. “You have no idea (how much this means).”
It could be a sign of things to come for some of the other athletic programs at the school.
“Our seventh- and eighth-grade girls basketball teams made it to the TAAC title game,” Dudash said, “Our eighth-grade football team won the TAAC and our eighth grade volleyball team made it to the TAAC title game. This is a culmination (of things) for us.”
The Lakers face Carey on Thursday at Gibsonburg High School at 6:15 p.m. If they win, they’ll face either TAAC foe Toledo Christian or Arcadia at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Gibsonburg High School.
Danbury 35, St. Joseph CC 28
Earlier in the week, Danbury fought back from an early deficit and beat St. Joseph CC, 35-28, in the sectional semifinal. It was a sweet victory for the Lakers considering that the Crimson Streaks had defeated them in the sectional semifinal last season, 45-37.
This one did not look good early for Danbury as the Lakers fell behind, 15-9, at halftime before making a run in the second half. In the third quarter, Danbury outscored SJCC, 10-5, to cut the deficit to 20-19 heading into the fourth quarter before ultimately taking control.
Erin Lavelle and Katie Almendinger hit back-to-back three-pointers to begin the final quarter and give the Lakers the lead for good. Lavelle actually drew a charge on the defensive possession in between both treys, helping to further sustain momentum in Danbury’s favor.
“We did not come out very strong offensively,” Danbury head coach Joe Fetzer said. “Seven of those nine (first-half points) came from kids off the bench. But we played good defense and were only down 15-9. (at halftime).”
Lavelle finished with 13 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter. She was 5-of-7 from the charity stripe in the final eight minutes. Alex Perrman came off the bench to score all five of her points in the first half to help keep her team in it before they made a rally, and Megan Stephens also contributed, finishing with five points.