Waterford Mott plays role of spoiler, dealing devastating blow to South Lyon East’s LVC title chances
SOUTH LYON — The South Lyon East Cougars had a chance coming into the game, and felt it slipping away when Waterford Mott played like a team with nothing to lose.
Then, the Cougars gave themselves a chance again, erasing a 10-point third-quarter deficit, tying the game up with just over two minutes to go, only to see it slip away again.
After East tied the game at 43-43 on a layup by Avery Millspaugh with 2:03 remaining in Tuesday’s Lakes Valley Conference battle, Mott pulled away again, scoring 11 of the final 16 points in the game to win, 54-48, and deal a devastating blow to the Cougars’ chances of claiming a piece of the LVC crown.
“We’ve really been trying to focus in practice, since we lost to (Walled Lake) Northern, on ‘Let’s get ready for districts.’ If something happens, and somehow we get a piece of the league, great, but really, it’s just get better every day, and try to use what we practice to put it into game situations,” Mott coach Michelle Sklar said.
“We’ve been a lot of close games over the last two years — for sure this year. Every night’s pretty much a battle. We’ve talked for two years, basically, about other teams going on runs, and how we respond to it. Abby (Upleger) is a senior, and she took charge, attacked the basket, and had a great finish.”
Upleger’s reverse layup with 1:37 left gave the Corsairs the lead for good, then she finished off her 19-point outing by going 5-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final minute of the game.
Mott (15-5, 13-3 LVC) came into the contest a half-game behind conference co-leaders East and Walled Lake Western, but knocked the Cougars (12-7, 12-3 LVC) out of the first-place tie. Now Western (14-4, 12-2) needs just beat both Lakeland on Wednesday and South Lyon Friday to claim sole possession of the LVC title for the third straight season.
“Obviously, our goals are going to be re-set,” East coach Rob Leadley said. “We’ve got Lakeland on Friday, so we need to finish the season well … and we need to make sure we take care of that, so we at least end up in second place.”
Mott jumped out to an 11-3 lead, and held a 16-10 advantage after one quarter, and 26-19 at the break. The lead hit double-digits in the third quarter, and was at 39-30 entering the fourth.
The Corsairs knew that the Cougars — who were without leading scorer Nina Perl after a first-half fall put her in the concussion protocol — still had too many weapons to not make a run.
“I think this team’s probably the hardest team to defend in the league, because I think — besides ourselves — they have five players on the floor that can all attack and finish,” Sklar said. “hey’ve got five kids on the floor that can all play, and I thought their pressure, man-to-man, was helping us to prepare for probably West Bloomfield. Our focus was just to get better.”
The Cougars had the added conundrum of foul trouble, forcing Leadley to choose whether he would sit back in a zone to protect his players from further fouls — and risk the Corsairs just running the clock down — or let them continue to be aggressive.
He chose the latter, but it did hurt, as three players eventually fouled out once the Cougars were swapping fouls for stopping the clock in the final two minutes.
“We kind of had some players with foul trouble, so we were playing offense/defense with about five minutes left in the game, which you don’t want to be doing, so that was a bit of a challenge. It’s kind of a challenge for the kids to get a flow for what they’re doing. Nina getting the concussion thing, that hurt us early, and sometimes the team can kind of get emotional about that, too, so that changes things,” Leadley said. “Maybe we learned a little bit today. A lot of adversity, in terms of foul trouble, Nina being out … that hurts. … We just fouled too much. They were just at the foul line too much. We didn’t play that good of defense — a lot of hands. They’re a good team. They’ve got some height, and we don’t match up well with that. And those girls played well.”
East opened the fourth with consecutive 3-pointers from Lucy Cronin and Ella Kruschka to cut the nine-point deficit to just three, then used free throws to cut it to two, before Rachel Waranauckas found Millspaugh on the break for the game-tying layup. The Cougars had opportunities to take the lead, but Upleger would hit the reverse layup with 1:37 left to give Mott the lead for good.
“We had our opportunities — we had chances to take the lead. I think we got a rebound and then a turnover,” Leadley said. “Tonight, they just stuck with it. They were down, they could’ve very easily mailed it in, I guess, and they stuck with it, got it back to tied. I just think they showed a little bit of a response to adversity. We will need that, but hopefully we won’t need it as bad as we did tonight.”
Waranauckas led East with 14, while Cronin had 13 and Maddie Black 10.
Mikaila Proctor added 10 points to Upleger’s 19, while Makayla Fuerst had nine for Mott.