LIBERTY TWP. — It wasn’t exactly a grand opening for Lakota East High School’s girls basketball team, but Dan Wallace stressed that it was just the beginning.
The Thunderhawks never led Saturday afternoon against visiting Mercy McAuley, taking a 48-26 defeat in Wallace’s debut as East head coach.
“New program, new expectations, new offense, new defense, and Mercy McAuley is one of the top teams in the city,” Wallace said with a shrug. “It’s going to take some patience in the building of this.
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“The effort’s there. The energy’s there. The focus is there. The pride is there. We’ve just got to clean some things up and be a little more disciplined in what we’re trying to run, and I think we’ll be OK.”
Senior guard Sydney Harrison paced the Thunderhawks with 10 points, eight in a span of just over two minutes early in the third quarter.
East shot 30.8 percent from the floor and committed 25 turnovers in its season opener. It was the second game of the year for the Wolves, who topped West Clermont 48-33 on Friday.
“I think we came out strong at first, then we just kind of didn’t play defense as much and weren’t as aggressive,” Harrison said. “I think our rebounding was a little off today. Normally we box out really well.
“At the half, we came out as a team and started listening to coach and what he has taught us in practice, and we started scoring more.”
The Thunderhawks trailed 23-10 at the break, yet chopped the margin to six at the end of Harrison’s 8-point binge. Her second 3-pointer made it 27-21 with 3:55 left in the third period.
Harrison said it wasn’t hard to come out and find her stroke in a hurry after not playing in the first half.
“If you love the game, you just give it your all and play,” Harrison said. “I gave it my all. It’s always my plan to win.”
“Syd came out and gave us a really nice burst,” Wallace said. “I was trying to play through certain lineups and certain things, and as a coaching staff, we’re still figuring this group out. We’re trying to find out who’s got what and what they’re able to do.”
East wasn’t able to sustain that third-quarter burst. The 27-21 deficit widened quickly as the Wolves ran off 16 straight points. Kassidy Tensing’s 3-pointer created a 43-21 margin with 5:24 remaining.
Mercy McAuley won with offensive balance — Bowling Green commit Alexa Fleming, a junior guard, led the way with 10 points — and defensive pressure.
“You’ve got to give credit to the other team too,” Wallace said. “Lexi Fleming, what she does defensively is unique to the entire city. She made some plays, got some steals, and they played together and hit a lot of shots.”
He knew a few things about the team on the opposite bench. Wallace won 99 games over the last five seasons as McAuley’s head coach, opting to move to East after McAuley announced its merger with Mother of Mercy.
“There’s a lot of kids out there from Mercy that did a nice job tonight, so it’s not exactly my old program from last year,” Wallace said. “I’m proud of the fact that they’re continuing to play hard and I’d like them to be successful, but don’t get me wrong — we wanted to win this game today.
“I’m excited about being here. I’m excited about these kids, and this community’s really embraced the program to this point. I really think there’s a good future for Lakota East.”
Mercy McAuley coach Nick Baltimore, a former Mount Notre Dame and Badin assistant, believes his program has a bright future as well. He described the merger as “smooth sailing” so far.
“All the kids seem to buy in to what we’ve done and what we’ve been teaching,” Baltimore said. “Volleyball had success with merging the two teams, and so far, so good with us. The kids seem to get along really well considering they were rivals last year.”
The Wolves’ defense appeared to make East uncomfortable all afternoon. Baltimore said that was the plan.
“Just trying to scout them a little bit through the scrimmages and getting feedback from other coaches about them, one of the knocks was they didn’t handle pressure particularly well,” he added. “So we tried to pick up full-court man and just play man-to-man. That’s our game anyway, so it worked out. They didn’t handle it well, and that’s what we do.”
Ashley Tudor scored eight points and Tensing chipped in seven for Mercy McAuley. Fleming had five steals, three boards and three assists.
Jordan Stanley and Megan Hatfield marked four points apiece for the Thunderhawks. They were 11-36 the last two seasons under Gideon Dudgeon.
Harrison said Wallace is pushing the East players, “but in a good way. We needed to be pushed. Coach Wallace is a really good coach. He’s better than Coach Dudgeon. He’s given more influence with positivity and teaching as well. We’ve learned a lot.”
As a senior, Harrison said her No. 1 goal is to raise the Thunderhawks’ stature in the basketball community.
“I want to show everyone we’re a team and that we can win,” she said. “We’re not just the East that always loses to teams that aren’t afraid to play us. I want them to be afraid of Lakota East. I want to put it out there that we’re not the same as last year.”
On Wednesday, East will be at home against Seton, while Mercy McAuley hosts Princeton.
Mercy McAuley 10-13-11-14—48
Lakota East 5-5-11-5—26
MERCY MCAULEY (2-0): Alexa Fleming 4 0 10; Isabelle Dorr 2 0 5; Jenna Schoster 2 0 5; Kassidy Tensing 3 0 7; Ashley Tudor 4 0 8; Sophia Ventura 1 0 2; Alexandria Smith 2 0 4; Cecilia Horn 1 0 2; Samantha Wassler 2 1 5. Totals: 21-1-48
LAKOTA EAST (0-1): Lily Rupp 1 0 2; Jordan Stanley 1 2 4; Megan Hatfield 1 1 4; Sydney Harrison 2 4 10; Emily French 1 0 2; Kalie Siereveld 1 0 2; Grace Honigford 1 0 2. Totals: 8-7-26
3-pointers: M 5 (Fleming 2, Dorr, Schoster, Tensing), L 3 (Harrison 2, Hatfield)