Lakeland Union High School clinched a share of its second consecutive Great Northern Conference girls' basketball championship on Tuesday at Medford.
On Friday, the Thunderbirds had an opportunity to clinch the conference outright for the second year in a row by beating Antigo. It was the Red Robins who were the victims when they clinched the conference a year ago and once again they could do it on senior night.
Antigo was hoping to play spoiler, but in the end Lakeland was simply too much to handle, pulling away in the second half for a 67-43 win for its third Great Northern Conference championship in the last four years.
"It's an amazing feeling. It's a lot of hard work on the girls' part," LUHS head coach Melissa Ouimette said. "Just a lot of practices and working all those things that we need to win conference. It wasn't easy, but it's something we cherish and we appreciate. The girls worked hard and they deserve this nice honor."
Lakeland features four seniors on the squad and all four got the starting nod in the game.
Winning a conference championship is always special, but having the chance to win it in the final regular season home game of their careers brings it to another level.
"It was so much fun. We - as a team - are so competitive with each other," LUHS senior guard Riley Curtis said. "I think that bounces off and we are good as a team. It's just fun to win as a team. This is my third conference win as a senior. I won freshman year and last year so it's cool to be in the (trophy) case and see all the different teammates."
The four seniors all made an impact on the game as Curtis, Olivia Killian, Zoey Ziebart and Taryn Williams combined for 24 points in the game.
In the first half, the game was marred by turnovers by both teams, but the T-Birds were able to can four 3-pointers, two by Williams in her first career varsity start, one by Curtis and another by Parris. The result was an 11-point halftime lead.
"They play a sagging, switch man-to-man in the paint, just really collapsing," Ouimette said. "So I told them you have to look for your outside shot. We're cutting, but the defender is moving like a foot and a half. It's an interesting defense to play against so that's why we want to press like crazy, try and create turnovers and rip and get to the rim."
In the second half, Lakeland created some separation from Antigo, but couldn't pull away for good and used their length and height advantage to bother the home team.
Throughout the game the T-Birds were able to force turnovers with their press, but in the back end of the second half, they were finally able to score consistently off those miscues.
Melissa Bruckner was the main beneficiary, scoring 16 of her game-high 27 points in the second half.
"We went to a little more aggressive press to start the second half, where we try to trap the second they catch the ball and try to take away those passing angles," Ouimette said. "I wanted to come out and take a lead to start the second half and just go from there."
Parris finished the game with 15 points, while Curtis added nine for Lakeland, which is now one game away from finishing the conference schedule undefeated for the second consecutive season.
With a win at Mosinee - the last team to beat Lakeland in a GNC game back on Jan. 26, 2016 - in the regular season finale, the T-Birds can complete the 12-0 conference campaign and extend their GNC-record winning streak to 29 games.
While going perfect in the conference isn't the most important thing in the world to them, Lakeland is excited at the prospect of going undefeated again.
"We're just here to play basketball, but it is really cool to say we've won 29 consecutive conference games," Curtis said. "But we're just here to play the game of basketball and that's all that really matters to us."
Morgan Hotchkiss led Antigo with 15 points.
Lakeland (16-5, 11-0 GNC) wraps up the regular season at Mosinee on Friday at 6 p.m. in a boys-girls doubleheader.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter@SabatoNick.