LODI — As the old adage goes, the best offense is a good defense.
The Lodi girls basketball team stuck to that Monday night as it clamped down on Portage for a 62-43 victory in a non-conference game at Lodi High School.
“We’ve worked really hard and take pride in our defense every day,” Lodi coach Michelle Puls said. “It’s starting to carry over. Obviously we need to see some improvement, but that’s what we’re building this program off of, this defense.”
It showed early as the Blue Devils (2-0) kept the Warriors scoreless over the first 6 minutes, 24 seconds. In that span, Lodi built a 7-0 lead, capped off by four free throws by freshman Jaden Kolinski, with 11:36 left in the first half.
“Lodi played really aggressive defense, but the drought is still us,” Portage coach Jessica Howe said. “That’s something we’ve battled all three games and we’re still trying to find the basket, for every girl on this team.”
Eventually the Warriors (0-3) got on the board with a putback by sophomore McKena Yelk before Lodi started to roll. The Blue Devils ripped off a 14-2 run to amass a 21-4 lead midway through the first half.
While the Blue Devils defense was suffocating, the Warriors also struggled offensively. Portage is still working out the kinks of its new swing approach.
“I don’t feel like we’re running the offense correctly yet,” Howe said. “I see moments, but there’s so much more to it that we’re not doing in games. We’re seeing them at practice, but it’s just when we are going to see them at games.”
Back-to-back Yelk buckets cut the Warriors’ deficit to 24-11 with 5:45 left, and the teams traded punches down the stretch as Lodi took a 37-22 lead into halftime. Out of the intermission, the Warriors offense started to cook as junior Tess Wilson hit back-to-back buckets to make it 37-26 with just under a minute gone in the second half.
Like before, Lodi answered with a free throw by junior Rhianna Walzer and a long 2-pointer by freshman Lauren Milne for a 40-26 lead.
The Warriors continued to fight, trimming the deficit back to 11 at 41-30 following a pair of free throws by junior MacKenzie Roth with 14:10 remaining, but that was as close as Portage got. Back-to-back baskets by junior Alana Gilles and Walzer pushed the lead back to 15 at 45-30 and Lodi maintained that margin over the final 12 minutes.
“We have great leadership from our upperclassmen,” Puls said of her team’s ability to weather the Warriors’ second-half push. “We started three freshman and it says a lot for the junior and senior leadership we have.”
Those freshmen came up big for the Blue Devils as the Milne scored 15 points and Kolinski and Taylor Ripp combined for another 15. Gilles led all scorers with 16, while Walzer added 10 for the Blue Devils.
“They don’t play like freshmen,” Puls said. “It doesn’t faze them; they’re going to go out there and just play basketball.”
Yelk scored a team-high 13 for Portage while Roth, who sat out the final 14 minutes of first half with three personal fouls, added 10 including a pair of 3-pointers.
“She looked more determined to take that ball to the hole and she needs to keep doing that consistently,” Howe said. “Nothing is going to stop MacKenzie from playing.”
LODI 62, PORTAGE 43
Portage 22 21 — 43
Lodi 37 25 — 62
PORTAGE — Anderson 0, Roth 2 4-6 10, Wilson 4 1-2 9, Bisch 2 0-0 5, Belleau 0, Shortreed 0 1-2 1, Yelk 5 2-2 13, Brandner 2 1-4 5. Totals 15 9-20 43.
LODI — Wendt 3 2-2 8, Walzer 5 0-0 10, Gilles 6 4-5 16, L. Milne 4 7-9 15, Kolinski 0 8-10 8, Ripp 2 1-3 5. Totals 20 22-29 62.
3-point goals — POR 4 (Roth 2, Bisch 1, Yelk 1), L 0. Total fouls — L 19, POR 22.