Raiders fall to Providence Academy in subsection finals

Brooke Willemsen spins away from a Providence defender on the way to the basket. (Times staff photos by Paul Downer)
Brooke Willemsen spins away from a Providence defender on the way to the basket. (Times staff photos by Paul Downer)

One of the best seasons in recent memory came to an end for the Central girls’ basketball team on Wednesday, March 6 in the subsection finals against Providence Academy.

The Lions were the top-ranked team in the state, so while the 38-18 outcome wasn’t necessarily a surprise, the conduct of the game was certainly different than anything the Raiders had experienced while posting a 21-5 overall record to that point.

Providence Academy had a lineup that more closely resembled a college squad in terms of height and athleticism than a high school team, but ran a painfully slow offense that slowly bled out any Central hopes for a comeback after the Raiders fell behind early.

The Lions would advance down the court, then simply pass the ball around the perimeter for two to four minutes, only occasionally attacking the basket or launching a three-point shot.

“The crazy thing about it was that they would hold the ball for 2-3 minutes, and when they did take a shot and miss, it seemed like they were able to get the offensive rebound,” said Raiders head coach Gary Lembcke. “It is a very peculiar style, the way they run their offense, because they definitely have the talent where they could be a very successful team playing up-tempo. But it’s a style that frustrates players, the opposition.”

Lembcke said the deliberate nature of the game was particularly galling to the Raiders, who have thrived on fast-paced action this season.

“We like to get out and play up-tempo, and it really took away from us being able to do that. They’re a very good team and they handled the ball very well,” said Lembcke, pointing out that the Lions’ top three outside players are rated in the top 50 individuals in the state. “I think our players were frustrated because they couldn’t get the ball and get out and go. But you have to give them credit. They have a style they play. It might be very boring, but they execute it well.”

With the Lions’ skill and standoff approach, the Raiders had few chances to force bad passes or create turnovers.

“I’m sure our fans watching were very frustrated with it. As a coach, it was a tough feeling because it was like there was no control of what we could try to do,” said Lembcke. “We were just sitting on the bench going, ‘How can we get the ball?’”

While the Raiders normally took 70 to 80 shots per game during the season, they only took 27 shots against Providence Academy, and only four players recorded points. Kaylie Brazil scored seven points, Brooke Willemsen and Sami Jo Brinkmann each scored four points, and Lexi Erpenbach had three points.

“When you have limited possession like we did, that really hurt us,” said Lembcke. “It seems weird when you talk about a basketball game to use a football term like time of possession, but they took 2-4 minutes on a possession, got the offensive rebound and did it again.”

In the opening minutes the Raiders did manage to stick with the Lions on the scoreboard, but Providence Academy quickly gained separation with long-range shooting and a strong presence under the basket. After pulling ahead by a margin of 10, the Lions seemed content to essentially kill the clock for the remainder of the game while the Central student section chanted “boring” and bided its time by counting the number of passes before the Lions took a shot.

Providence Academy led 24-13 at halftime, and the Raiders scored just five points in the second half. In fact, Central put up just one point during the first 14 minutes of the second frame.

Despite the frustrating aspects of the game, Lembcke said he was happy with the way the Raiders defended, holding Providence Academy to one of its lowest point totals in a win this season.

“I thought our players played great defense. They worked very hard. It just seemed like we spent a lot of energy just playing defense and working on trying to keep them from scoring,” he said. “Our effort was very good against Providence. Things just didn’t go our way. You can’t complain about the effort, the attitude, how hard these kids worked.”

• Providence Academy defeated Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted in the section finals on March 8 by a 49-38 score. The Lions opened their state tournament campaign on March 13 against Pine Island at the Target Center.