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Lakeview shakes off rust in victory

CORTLAND — No high school basketball team in Trumbull County was able practice for the majority of December, and in the early going, the rust has been as evident as a 1982 Ford Pinto that sat outside for the last 38 years.

The Lakeview High School basketball team apparently had a car cover.

The Bulldogs returned all five starters from one year ago, and their chemistry was evident in a 62-26 thrashing of Girard on Friday at Lakeview High School.

Despite all Trumbull County athletics being shut down throughout late November and early December, Lakeview (2-0) wasn’t as fazed as many other teams. The Bulldogs’ familiarity with one another and knowledge of the offensive system and defensive rotations allowed them to advance quickly through practices, according to Bulldogs coach Ryan Fitch.

“We had the 14 or 15 practices, and then we got shut down for over a month,” he said. “When we came back, we had to spend less time reviewing sets, reviewing out-of-bounds plays, they knew them from last year. The basic, fundamental principle that we do on offense of reading screens, it wasn’t new to them, so we could kind of pick up right where we left off.”

Senior Brendon Kilpatrick certainly didn’t miss a beat.

He scored a game-high 27 points and put the game out of reach in the third quarter, when he scored 16 points, including three of his five 3-pointers. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound guard also grabbed 12 rebounds and was a key factor on a defense that stifled the Indians (0-2).

Girard started off decently as the game was tied at 11 late in the first quarter. The Indians matched Lakeview’s strong defense with some its own, but a vastly talented Bulldogs team was just settling in. They finished the half on a 16-2 run and took advantage of a Girard squad that was without its top scorer, Dom Malito, who was out with an injury. The Indians went into an offensive rut they couldn’t find their way out of after the big run by Lakeview.

A lack of execution stuck out most to Girard coach Craig Hannon.

“It’s a problem for us right now,” he said. “… We just need to do things a little better. Easy things — cut harder, screen harder, get guys open, hit the right guy — and we will. They’ll work hard, they’ll get better. (Lakeview) makes you really work hard defensively. So, a lot of times you might come down and you’re pretty exhausted. Our guys got tired.”

Chasing around Lakeview players will do that to you.

Kilpatrick was one three players to score in double figures, with Ryan Carnahan adding 13 points and Nate Fox contributing 10. Lakeview shot 23-of-41 from the field, making 8-of-15 3-pointers. The Bulldogs’ defense was even better, holding Girard to two points in the second quarter.

A double-digit halftime lead forced the Indians into a press defense, and that resulted in some open looks for the sharp-shooting Kilpatrick. He hit a couple 3s, and the lead quickly swelled to 20 and then 30 points by the start of the fourth quarter.

“Definitely,” said Kilpatrick of whether he can sense when he’s starting to find his shooting touch. “… I like feeling the game out for sure, but the second quarter, I try to get going. It’s a team game though. My teammates made good passes, and I knocked some down.”

That kind of attitude has the Bulldogs thinking big in 2021.

They hope to bring back the kind of style they showed during an impressive run in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, when they reached the regional semifinal and had a 39-12 combined record. The key to their success was an uncanny chemistry. Players were aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses on offense. They communicated on defense and rotated instinctively.

The 2021 version isn’t too far off from replicating those qualities.

“We’ve got all five starters back,” Kilpatrick said. “We’re all tight friends, just a good group of guys. We’ve been ready to go for a long time, waiting for this season. We’re pumped up and ready to go, for sure.”

Fitch like his team’s expectations.

He knows to get there will take work. It starts with staying in shape. That was the one area lacking when Lakeview returned for practices. The Bulldogs fixed that, and Fitch believes their mindset will allow them to work through any future challenges as well.

“They have the same mindset that the guys had that went to the regional,” said Fitch, now in his sixth year at Lakeview. “This group of kids that we’ve got, they’re going to give me effort, they’re going to give me everything they’ve got night in and night out. Practices have been better the last couple of days, little bit more intense. If we keep that rolling, who knows where these guys can go? I’m just along for the ride.”

Lakeview is at South Range on Tuesday, while Girard travels to Jefferson on the same day.

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