Derek Archer knew this season was going to be different.
The Lewis Central coach wanted to challenge his team more than he had in the past, and that has been reflected in the schedule. Entering Saturday, the Titans had three losses — two to Glenwood and one to Red Oak — and both of those teams are ranked with Glenwood currently unbeaten and fourth in Class 4-A and Red Oak sixth in Class 3-A. L.C. lost those three games by a combined 11 points.
L.C.’s difficult schedule continued Saturday at the Jennie Ed Sports Med Shootout at the Mid-America Center. The Titans squared off with unbeaten Millard South, the top-ranked team in Nebraska and perhaps L.C.’s most difficult matchup of the season.
L.C. started strong, but eventually succumbed to the Patriots’ defensive pressure in a 59-41 loss which dropped the Titans to 6-4 on the season and improved Millard South to 13-0.
The game was played in a large arena against a team with talent everywhere on the floor, similar to what is expected at the end of the season at the state tournament. Although Archer and his squad didn’t leave Saturday with a win, they got exactly what they expected and wanted out of the matchup.
“They’re legit, and we knew that,” Archer said. “You don’t have girls that get the attention that they do from colleges if you’re not good. We knew that, and that’s okay.
“We’ve kind of overhauled our schedule this year and played some really tough teams. That was by design. We’ve felt in years past that we maybe were a little untested going into tournament time. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. We get better playing against teams like that.”
L.C. faced an uphill battle for much of the second half. Millard South’s swarming, full-court press caused multiple turnovers leading to a number of transition baskets.
But the Titans also showed how good they can be when they execute. L.C. opened the contest on a 7-0 run with baskets from McKenna Pettepier, Delaney Esterling and Megan Witte for their largest lead of the game.
Millard South slowly clawed its way back into the game. The Patriots led 14-12 after one quarter, and the lead by halftime was at 26-18 following a Mya Babbitt 3-pointer.
The Patriots’ lead grew to 18 by the end of the third quarter, and they maintained the lead from there, thanks largely to an impressive defensive effort.
“We’re working hard to shore up all the details we could think of to toughen up and be super hard to score on,” Millard South coach Bryce Meyers said. “We know we’ve got a lot of kids who can make baskets, so our focus has been on that end.
“That’s how we play every game. We want to press for 32 minutes and make people try to beat it and see if they have a plan for it. We kind of go from there.”
Mya Babbitt led three Millard South players in double figures with 18 points. Jayme Horan and Cora Olsen each added 13.
Witte led the way for the Titans with 13 points. Esterling finished with 12 and Pettepier 11.
L.C. has a pair of games this upcoming week. The Titans are at Thomas Jefferson Monday and play host to Creston Friday.
The Titans didn’t leave the court victorious Friday, but their coach feels they took a step in the right direction.
“That’s why we play these games,” Archer said. “To see that kind of pressure and intensity. To see a press like that. That’s why we’re doing this to get that experience against those types of teams, so when we come back to regionals and hopefully state, we’re prepared, and we’ve seen that before.
“I could not be more proud of them. I knew (Millard South) was very good. For the better part of the first half, we went nose to nose with them. We’ll take that.”
Millard South (13-0) 14 12 19 14 — 59
Lewis Central (6-4) 12 6 9 14 — 41
MS: Megan Belt 5, Jayme Horan 13, Cora Olsen 13, Mya Babbitt 18, Khloe Lemon 8, Juliana Jones 2.
LC: Hadley Hill 5, McKenna Pettepier 11, Megan Witte 13, Delaney Esterling 12.