Andy Fishman hesitated to call it a statement. But that’s exactly what his Lakota West High School girls basketball team delivered Sunday afternoon.
The Firebirds played without 6-foot-2 senior center Arianne Whitaker in their opening game at the Classic in the Country Challenge. And they played beatdown ball anyway.
Lauren Cannatelli (19), Nia Staples (14) and Lexi Wasan (12) were the top point producers as West routed Wadsworth 62-30 at Hiland’s Perry Reese Jr. Center.
“We’re very excited about the progress that we’ve been making and our competitiveness,” Fishman said. “What we are saying is that this is how we envision Firebird basketball and what we expect from our girls and our coaches. When you have a bunch of kids that don’t care who gets the credit, this is what can happen.”
Whitaker, nursing a hyperextended knee, sat out as a precaution and won’t play again Monday when the Firebirds (11-2) meet Solon at 3 p.m. in their Classic finale.
West did just fine with Whitaker in street clothes against Wadsworth (11-2), trailing only once (2-0) and flustering the Grizzlies into 19 turnovers.
“It was a little nerve-wracking to start out,” Wasan admitted. “Coming into a big atmosphere like this, it’s a lot for all of us to take in. But once you get over the initial nerves of it, the energy really picks you up. It’s awesome.”
Said Cannatelli, “Just before the game, we said that we were going to go out and outwork them on offense and defense. We just had to play, and we did.”
The Firebirds couldn’t get a shot to fall for nearly three minutes. It was 4-4 midway through the first quarter. By halftime, it was 35-18.
“We did miss our first few shots, but defensively, we were so good,” Fishman said. “We had great ball pressure. We were cohesive defensively. We were on that string that we talk about. We were really connected.
“We were missing shots that we wanted and that were open, and you know that’s going to turn around if you just keep shooting. And that’s what happened.”
Wadsworth coach Andrew Booth said it was pretty much a lost day for his team, which shot 23.3 percent from the field.
“The way things went early in the game, it was just real hard for us to get anything going,” Booth said. “I think West fed on that. They didn’t do anything that surprised us. They’re just that good. They’re an elite team in the state of Ohio.
“About midway through the second quarter, you have a choice to continue to fight, but sometimes it’s tough for 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids to keep that battle going. In terms of emotion, I think we went downhill.”
Whitaker’s absence altered West’s game plan a bit, but not immensely.
“Where it did change was in the fact that we felt a greater sense of urgency to not allow them to get looks around the basket,” Fishman said. “When you have the best shot blocker in the state behind you, you can tend to maybe take a few more chances.
“We had to be a little bit more disciplined in our reads. We didn’t overshoot very many gaps with our pressure. That was part of the game plan to give up some opportunities for them to pass the ball in exchange for being tighter in the middle of the floor. I thought our girls collectively did an awesome job of preventing penetration.”
Booth said the key to the Firebirds’ defense is the three-headed monster known as Cannatelli, Staples and Danielle Wells.
“They’re just so quick and physical and aggressive,” Booth said. “They disrupt anything you want to do.”
Cannatelli scored in every quarter. She had the large crowd buzzing in the third stanza after sinking two 3-pointers in a span of 56 seconds.
“That’s such a great feeling, making shots like that and knowing my teammates have confidence in me,” Cannatelli said. “I missed a couple shots at the beginning, but I knew my team was going to keep looking for me, and I kept having confidence in myself.”
Staples scored in bunches for West. She marked eight points in the last three minutes of the second period and six points in the first three minutes of the fourth stanza.
“That was fun, but we definitely worked hard to get there,” Staples said. “We’re in our zone right now. Hopefully we’ll stay in it.”
Abby Prohaska scored eight points and Christine Laritz grabbed nine rebounds for the Firebirds. Wells had six assists.
“I thought Christine did an awesome job,” Fishman said of Laritz, a 6-0 sophomore. “I told her this was going to be her coming-out party, and she surely came out with 18 minutes of gritty, disciplined basketball.”
Wasan continues to be a quiet, consistent contributor for West. She was 6 of 8 from the floor and snagged six rebounds Sunday. Her field-goal percentage for the season is 55.4.
“I really had to focus more on my inside game today, which is a changeup for me, but it worked,” Wasan said. “Coach says to be the glue and nails of the team, so that’s what I try to be. I kind of play under the radar and get my points when I can. I just want to help the team out as much as possible.”
Fishman hopes to have Whitaker in the lineup Thursday night when the Firebirds visit Mason in a showdown for first place in the Greater Miami Conference. But that’s not a given.
“The Mason game was the optimistic prognosis,” Fishman said. “We’re not going to push it. We’ll play without her for as long as she’s not 100 percent.”
Aubrey Virgin’s eight points paced Wadsworth, and Sophia Fortner chipped in six. The Grizzlies came up empty on 12 attempts beyond the arc.
Booth is hopeful that his team will bounce back with a solid performance at rival Revere on Wednesday. Wadsworth was 0-2 in the Classic, losing to Mount Notre Dame 45-50 on Saturday.
“We don’t have any time to mope around,” Booth said. “If we do, we’ll be in another tough spot.”
Lakota West 14-21-15-12—62
LAKOTA WEST (11-2): Danielle Wells 1 1 3; Nia Staples 6 2 14; Lauren Cannatelli 6 4 19; Lexi Wasan 6 0 12; Abby Prohaska 3 2 8; Sarah Jones 2 0 4; Emily Haar 1 0 2. Totals: 25-9-62.
WADSWORTH (11-2): Jodi Johnson 1 3 5; Laurel Palitto 1 1 3; Aubrey Virgin 4 0 8; Sophia Fortner 3 0 6; Alexa Conley 0 4 4; Lexi Lance 1 1 3; Peyton Banks 0 1 1. Totals: 10-10-30.
3-pters: LW 3 (Cannatelli 3), W 0
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