For losing 80% of their scoring from last year, the Imlay City Spartans seem to be doing just fine.
Last night’s 66-37 victory over Armada in the conference opener put the team at 6-0 on the year with an average of 54.5 points per game, leaving head coach Bill Lengemann optimistic about the season ahead.
“I’m very pleased with what’s going on,” Lengemann said. “They’re going to grow and get better and you can literally see that. Last year we started out with seniors who had played for three or four years…our growth was still good, but there weren’t such big steps…This year we’re seeing big steps, and today I saw a really big step.”
Lengemann said the biggest improvement was in game management from Saturday’s narrow, 3-point victory over Sandusky to Tuesday’s consistent game against Armada. The Spartans led 27-14 at the half and maintained a high level of intensity throughout.
Senior Lily Lengemann and junior Lexa Forti each said the team’s ability to shoot from anywhere on the court is its biggest strength, and it showed last night. Whether it was one of four players who combined for eight threes, Forti’s steals-turned-layups, or freshman Makayla Bruman’s mid-range jumpers, the Spartans were seemingly unstoppable.
“I feel like we’re natural shooters,” Forti said.
“We have the 3-point shooters who are younger making shots and we can dish it to them and it just brings the momentum to our side,” Lily Lengemann said. “And I feel like we’re all really good friends, so we know where each other is and we can get each other the open shots we know that we can hit. I think that’s the best part: just being able to have confidence in our team and our shots.”
Forti led with 20 points on the night, including three 3-pointers, Bruman added 14, and Lily Lengemann had 11.
“This was the best game [Makayla] has played, hands down...In the summer I saw her make five, six, seven threes in a game. I’ve seen her go lights out,” Bill Lengemann said. “I haven’t seen it this season yet, I know it’s there and I know it’s possible, but I felt like her defense today and her aggressiveness picked up a big notch and I think part of that was because she hit some big shots.”
Forti started off the fourth quarter with back-to-back buckets, giving her team its biggest lead of the game at 55-21. Armada senior Ellen Sutton, however, wasn’t about to give up that easily.
She answered with back-to-back scores of her own, including an and-one which she made, narrowing the deficit to 55-26 with 6:42 left on the clock.
“We don’t want to quit,” Sutton said. “We always want to keep fighting and going for stuff, and we really push each other by wanting to fight more and we always want the best for each other.”
Sutton managed nine points and seven rebounds on the night, while sophomore Ashlyn Upton led with 11 points, nine rebounds, and three steals.
“We put a lot on [Upton’s] shoulders. She played a lot last year, but she’s still a sophomore point guard,” Tigers head coach John Baerwolf said. “She’s handling the ball most of the time and she's doing things where I don’t know if I've had a point guard like that in a few years who can handle it.”
Armada now stands 2-3 on the year, having won games by 32 points and having lost after being held to 22. Baerwolf said the Tigers are trying a different style of play–one that’s faster and more aggressive–but it’s just taking some getting used to.
“It’s a little bit of a change from what we usually do, so we’re still learning that. We can make excuses all day long as a team and as coaches, but we didn’t get the job done. We got whooped. [Imlay City] took it to us and they played hard. Frankly, they play like a championship team right now,” Baerwolf said. “We’re trying to knock them off just like everybody else in the BWAC will be.”
Both teams will return this week for another BWAC matchup. Imlay City will host Almont (1-4, 0-1 BWAC) on Thursday while Armada will stay home to host Croswell-Lexington (3-1, 1-0 BWAC) Friday.
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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