Jan. 20—The Lake Catholic girls basketball team admittedly hasn't had the season it has wanted to this point.
But as the regular season draws to a close and the postseason nears, the Cougars can take one major positive with them. With a 37-31 win over Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin on Jan. 20, Lake Catholic achieved its first two-game season sweep over the Lions in nine years.
Avery Budrys-Rini scored a game-high 17 points, including six free throws down the stretch, and Carmella Sowers added 10 points and five blocked shots as Lake Catholic improved to 6-10.
"This definitely helps with confidence," Budrys-Rini said. "It hasn't been a great season so far. Beating your archrival helps."
Lake Catholic also defeated NDCL, 40-38, in overtime back on Dec. 2.
"We talked about it in the locker room," Coach Michael Pecjak said. "It's been about nine years since we've had a sweep. Good stuff, especially for where we are at right now. We really needed a win."
It certainly didn't come easy. When Budrys-Rini spotted up on the wing for a 3-pointer at the 6:15 mark of the fourth quarter, Lake had a 31-22 lead, which was seemingly safe. But the Lions hit two shots in a row from Mia Trusso and Maya Rowan to cut the margin to 31-27 with 5:05 left.
Lake Catholic didn't make another field goal over the final 5:05 of the game. But Budrys-Rini's parade to the free throw line, which resulted in 6 of 10 shots going down, kept NDCL at bay, even with the Lions getting buckets from Olivia White and Taylor Frost.
Budrys-Rini stood about two feet behind the free throw line on her attempts but easily made enough to keep NDCL at a safe distance.
"If I don't stand that far away, it's just gonna hit the backboard and come back to me," she said with a laugh.
First-year NDCL coach Pietro DiMichele credited Budrys-Rini for her marksmanship. When his team put her on the line in an attempt to get back in the game, the two-sport star — who also is a key player for Lake Catholic's state-championship volleyball team — was cool in the clutch.
"She knocked down a bunch of shots there at the end that kept them ahead," DiMichele said. "We were struggling offensively. When a game is that tight, those possessions mean a lot."
NDCL struggled offensively for most of the afternoon, falling behind 5-0 early on a 3 from Budrys-Rini and a putback from Sowers. The Lions never led, though they did cut the margin to two possessions multiple times without getting over the hump.
"For whatever reason, the last two games we've played against them, we've struggled to finish a couple of easy baskets," DiMichele lamented. "Credit to them. They play really sound defense, they get after you, they're physical and they attack. They crash the glass and kill possessions when they need to kill a possesison."
Six-foot leaper Sowers was a big key to that defensive effort. She not only emphatically blocked five shots, but altered many others. Lake's student section came to its feet every time she swatted a shot across the court.
"I got yelled at a little bit for swinging too hard," she said with a grin, "but you gotta do what you gotta do."
White led NDCL with 13 points, including a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter. Rowan was next with seven, all coming in the first half.
DiMichele, who has coached multiple sports and worn different hats in his 15-year stay at NDCL, credits his team for learning a new offense and new defense this year and doing so with a young and inexperienced team.
"We're in a much better spot now," he said of the 4-9 team's growth throughout the season. "I credit the girls. They've been working their tails off."
Aside from Budrys-Rini and Sowers, Lake Catholic got seven points from guard Ella Zampedro, all in the first half.
"Hopefully," Pecjak said when asked if the win provides some confidence. "We've got a tough stretch. We've got a bunch of league games left and a couple of other games. To get this one, hopefully we start peaking at the right time."
Lake Catholic 37, NDCL 31