I made a trip up to Auburn earlier this week really for one clear reason: to watch and then write about Bishop Luers as they visited Lakewood Park.
Then a funny thing happened along the way. Lakewood Park stole some of my focus. And, while I wrote about Bishop Luers out of that game, I felt inclined to pen a second column about who and what I saw that night.
So here we are.
The Panthers are solid and not just Class 1A solid, but solid for the area. They proved it trip by trip fast breaking up the court, actually out and running with Bishop Luers, one of the best area teams at fast breaking. Now, as the weeks trickle towards the postseason faster than most of us would like, it is time to consider that Lakewood Park could have the chops to bring their school just its second ever boys basketball Sectional title, especially with Blackhawk Christian long gone from Class 1A themselves.
Like any team not considered a top team in the area, like any team from such a small school, there are areas to work on for Lakewood Park. I’ll leave that to coach Steve Oberlin though. Yet, they are still 6-5 heading into a Saturday meeting with Blackhawk Christian and former Lakewood coach Marc Davidson. They only won seven games last season and eight the year before.
As I said about Bishop Luers in my column out of Tuesday’s game though, a lot of the trials for Lakewood Park come from not having a solid footing. When Oberlin took over the program at the start of last season, he was their fourth coach in as many seasons and their fifth coach in seven seasons. Following Davidson’s exit in 2013 after a 17-win campaign, they trended backward for three seasons under Chad Hibbard. When Lakewood Park won their only Sectional title in 2017 under Rod Wilmont, their roster was as good as its been led by Keegan Fetters, who now plays at Huntington University. They dropped off the next year with Wayne Brooks and then Oberlin took over.
The history lesson is here to remind you how similar the paths were for the Panthers and Bishop Luers when they crossed on Tuesday. And while Luers is at a high level now and the Panthers are probably a year away from it themselves, they have still set themselves up to be in a position to contend in Class 1A.
There was also alignment in how fast and free both teams played at their peak on Tuesday. Lakewood Park can play a nice blend of half court and out on the break. If they can harness some more patience through experience, that will only benefit them and their scoring consistency.
The leadership of Josh Pike is tremendous on the court or in the rare instance that he’s on the sideline. That really only happened significantly on Tuesday when the game was out of reach for Lakewood Park, but this kid has a future in coaching. He knows how to pump his team up, he knows how to break them down a little to build them back right too. A lot of the focus for Lakewood Park’s attention goes to a sophomore, and for good reason, but Pike is the heartbeat of this program. Lakewood Park’s runs throughout the game Tuesday were because of Pike’s thumbprint; he had his hand in everything good that was going on as they gathered in a frantic pace.
Sophomore Caedmon Bontrager gets a lot of attention and with a 6-foot-7 stature, that is bound to happen. He plays with a host of the area’s best sophomores and posts during the summer, but he has really molded himself in ways to not blend in. Bontrager is one of those guys who needs added patience and to let the game fully come to him each of the 32 minutes, but he is a sophomore so Bounce expects that. On Tuesday, when he dialed in and harnessed his size and physicality, he was completely unstoppable around the rim. Watching he and Pike fly around on the break has been a big part of Lakewood Park’s game this season.
Tuesday was no different, especially the alley oop they connected on that had Bontrager essentially dunking over the shoulders of Bishop Luers’ Demarcus Hudson. Bontrager ended Tuesday’s game with a game high 25 points and 11 rebounds.
If you know Lakewood Park, you know Pike and Bontrager. Pike is big part of multiple sports and Bontrager’s name is growing larger each passing game including his summer with Spiece Indy Heat Red.
You may not know Carter Harman, the second third of the solid sophomore class. There were things I knew about Lakewood Park myself going into that game, but Harman certainly grabbed my attention on Tuesday. Sure, he had 17 points in the loss, but what really stood out to me what Harman’s poise for such a young age. Mistakes happen, but Harman knew when and where to take things into his own hands. He reads the court and, for the most part, the game well. Harman is going to be a major player in getting Lakewood Park back to title contender in the coming weeks and years.
The third of that sophomore group is Aiden Fetters. He spent a lot of Tuesday on the bench with what appeared to be a minor ankle injury. But when Fetters was in, it was clear that he upholds certain standards of his last name. He is a physical force who likes to move others around and is good at creating space.
TJ Faur, Levi Hindle and Grant Merkel all also showed what they needed to, at least in my eyes. Faur, the only of those three that is a senior, was a good leader and steady hand. When you have other big playmakers, sometimes you just need guys who know how to take a step back and be a facilitator and that steady hand. That guy is important in just as many ways; Faur seems to have taken an understanding of how he can contribute best.
Survey says that Lakewood Park had no business being in the game late against Bishop Luers. The Knights are #5 in this website’s most recent power poll and one of the hottest teams in this area. But still, near the beginning of the fourth quarter, it was just a two point game even if it didn’t end that closely. That is only to be attributed to the way that the Panthers find their roles and play them with a certain looseness that often produces title hopes.
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