CORTLAND - If not for a desire to finish the regular season with an undefeated record, the Lakeview Bulldogs girls' basketball team could start its tournament run any day now.
So what if it's late January on the calendar - the Bulldogs are in a March state of mind. They took another step in their progression into a complete team Thursday with an 86-43 win over the Liberty Leopards in an All-American Conference National Division game.
The Bulldogs dominated play in every aspect from beginning to end. Five players scored in double figures, led again by senior Alli Pavlik with 25 points. Lakeview had a 42-33 advantage in rebounding, paced by senior Marissa Naples with 12.
Most impressive were the 29 steals generated by the Bulldogs (17-0 and 9-0 in the conference). Pavlik, who became Lakeview's career scoring leader this season, set the single-game steal record with 11, breaking the mark of nine set by Karen Stocz in 1999.
It added up to a first half in which the Bulldogs literally ran to a 53-24 lead. Pavlik had 22 points and nine steals in the half, helping turn the game into a track meet.
"That's probably one of the better halves we've played," Bulldogs coach Adam Lewis said. "When we're playing hard like that and are in the right spots, especially in our press, it can be a long night for the opposing team."
Liberty coach Ron DeJulio would agree with that statement. He was surprised by the difficulty the Leopards had against pressure defense. They were more effective in the first meeting between the teams, which was won by Lakeview, 61-45.
"Twenty-two turnovers in the first half is tough for us to overcome," DeJulio said. "Their press really killed us. In the first game we played them they tried to press us, and they had to get out of it because they couldn't stop us. For some reason we didn't click on our press-breaker tonight."
Freshman Jensen Silbaugh, who plays a lot like Pavlik, had 13 points. Laney Lytle and Calli Schmitt both had 12 points, and Naples finished with 11. Pavlik's sister Abby was one point away from scoring in double figures with nine.
Don't think for a moment that Alli wasn't aware of Stocz's record. Breaking the record was on her to-do list.
"I got the all-time scoring record and the 1,000th point," Alli said. "This and the assist record are kind of my last two big records to get on the board. I don't know if I'll get the 3-point record, but this one I've been trying to get all year. To finally get it is a little bit of a relief."
Alli expected a closer game based on the earlier encounter. The Leopards entered with a 12-4 record (5-3 in the conference) and are led by talented senior Leah Leshnack, who scored 19 points.
"They always give us a run for our money at Liberty," Alli said. "They're a very good team. They handle the ball well. Leah Leshnack is really good. We didn't come in here with big heads. We haven't with anybody, but especially them."
The Bulldogs cooled off offensively a bit in third quarter, producing just 13 points. Leading 66-34, Lakeview, with substitutes on the floor for much of the fourth period, padded its lead with a 20-point quarter.
"The defensive effort was there," Lewis said. "Every steal and every defensive rebound for us is a scoring opportunity. We're looking to get the ball out and go as best as we can."
Marcy Dykes added 11 points to Liberty's scoring.