This is starting to become a habit.
Over the last three seasons, the Lake boys basketball team has gone 55-11 by playing an exciting brand of basketball while winning two Northern Buckeye Conference titles and just missing out on a third last season.
This season has been a little more special than usual because Lake, which is 19-1 and 12-1 in the NBC heading into the weekend, flirted with perfection by starting 13-0 and garnering recognition by earning the No. 4 ranking in the Division II Associated Press poll.
Defeating NBC foe Woodmore last Friday night would have meant a sole championship, although they could have had a little help had Eastwood defeated pre-season league favorite Rossford (14-5, 11-2) Wednesday. The Bulldogs held off the Eagles for a 50-48 victory and a Bulldog win over Elmwood Friday and Flyer loss to the Wildcats would have meant co-championships. The Flyers last regular season game was a make-up contest against Northwood Saturday.
Point guard Connor Bowen, the NBC Player of the Year, leads the way, averaging 22.4 points and 8.4 assists, both tops in the conference. The 6-0 junior has gotten help this year from fellow junior Jared Rettig, a 6-2 shooting guard who is fifth in the league in scoring (16.9) and first in rebounding (9.8).
The team, which employs a four-guard lineup, has gotten solid contributions from 6-0 guard Brandyn Neal (9.4 pts., 5.4 reb.), a second-team selection, 5-11 guard Cody Witt (7.4 pts.) and 6-3 forward Todd Walters (6.8 pts, 5.4 reb.). Plus, Jake Rettig (6-0), Aaron Witt (5-9) and Adam Duncan (5-10) have provided production off the bench.
When faced with challenges this season, Lake has answered the call. It’s been an exciting season for the Flyers, one that has seen them win in dramatic fashion on numerous occasions.
Down one, Jake Rettig hit a three-pointer with 3.2 seconds remaining in their 52-49 victory over Eastwood. Against Bryan, the Flyers rallied from 12-point second-half deficit to win, 67-64, and defeated Rossford in nail-biting fashion both times. The first victory, a 67-65 overtime win over the Bulldogs, was won on Jared Rettig’s go-ahead three-pointer with 1:35 left in overtime, and the other win, a 75-69 victory on Feb. 11, essentially clinched the league title for Lake.
“I couldn't be more pleased with the team’s success this year!” coach Ryan Bowen said. “We play one senior, three juniors, four sophomores and one freshman. So we came into the season very young. Connor and Jared have experience, but they were the only two that ever started varsity before this year. But this team has bought into everything we as coaches wanted out of them and the success quickly followed.”
It wasn’t that long ago when things weren’t going so well for the program. From 2007-10, the Flyers went a combined 16-68 and won just one tournament game before Bowen took over.
Since then, Lake has become one of the area’s top teams, going 67-20 (.770) while winning two league titles and a sectional crown.
|Lake sophomore Brandyn Neal
goes to the hoop. (Photo
courtesy of Innovations
Bowen, a 1992 graduate of Lake, worked his way up through the program, coaching the junior high and freshman teams while also serving as a varsity assistant before getting his chance to run the show.
The primary key to Lake’s success over the last four seasons is the talent that has come through in the form of his son, Connor Bowen, along with Jared Rettig, Jayce Vancena, Marcus Pierce, Rashad Smith and Josh Tantari. But knowing how to harness that talent and employing the right kind of system has made a world of difference as well, plus, Coach Bowen believes there’s been a change in the culture.
Coach Bowen’s up-tempo style allows for a more exciting brand of basketball, He stresses that it has enabled his players to play with freedom in a relaxed setting. He trusts that his players will make smart decisions and allows the talent to flourish while also playing within the framework of the system, one that has wide-ranging boundaries.
“We wanted to implement a system that would be good for our athletes,” he said. “We run a read offense, without many play calls. We want to push the ball as much as possible (and) play fast, but take reasonable shots. A good point guard is a must for our style of offense, as they are making the reads, and the rest of the players are reading the ball. Our style is fun to play, and hopefully fun to watch for the fans.
“We stress that as coaches must trust our players to play the game. Mistakes will happen, but we don't stress about their actions, we focus on their reactions. Bad plays will happen, we just work that much harder on the next play, and that mistake will be forgotten.”
Connor Bowen, a three-year starter at point guard, has shown a knack for knowing when to attack and when to look for his teammates.
“It’s the best thing,” he said. “I get the freedom with everything I want to do, and when I am playing well, it frees up all my teammates.
“We have played really well as a team and are really close as a group so that helps us out tremendously,” Connor continued. “We are about where I thought we’d be. I’m really proud of my team and all the things we’ve accomplished so far.
That style of play has allowed a slasher like Rettig, a first-team All-NBC selection, to create opportunities for himself and score in bunches.
“It’s fun to play in a system like that,” Rettig said. “It helps with the small team we have so we try and be more athletic with our trapping and transition offense. Playing as one (unit) on the defensive end has helped tremendously.”
What’s even more impressive than his offensive output has been the fact that at 6-2, Rettig has managed to lead the league in rebounding.
“Due to our lack of size, I’ve dedicated myself to crashing the boards,” Rettig said. “I’ve just been in the right spot at the right time, I guess.”
Lake begins tournament play on Friday when they face either Rossford or Rogers in the Division II sectional final on Friday at 6:15 p.m. at Clay High School. Brackets are available at www.ohsaa.org.