Don't look now, but they're at it again.

Don’t look now, but they’re at it again.

The Lake Blue Streaks have rarely been “the” team that everyone focuses on entering a new Federal League season, but the lack of buzz or early hype never seems to bother them. And inevitably, when the season winds down, Lake is right in the thick of the battle against the league’s more celebrated teams.

The story is playing out once again entering the final weeks of the league season and a resounding 62-44 road win over Canton McKinley last week followed by a 55-39 home win over league leader Jackson was the loudest statement yet for the Blue Streaks. Entering the final week of league play, Lake and Jackson were tied in the standings and had split their two regular-season matchups.

“We got them by 18 at the Fieldhouse and no one would have predicted that,” head coach Tom McBride said of the McKinley win. “It really reinforced to our guys what we’ve been preaching as coaches about working hard and being together. We had that individual confidence before, but I think it’s more of a collective confidence now.”

The veteran head coach pointed back to a stretch early in the season when his team dropped three straight games to St. Vincent-St. Mary, McKinley and Jackson in a brutal week of games that left Lake searching for answers but hardly waving the white flag on its season.

Instead, this year’s Blue Streaks have drawn on the lessons and foundation laid by previous teams that have made runs to the regional tournament and the 2013-14 squad that came within seconds of a trip to the state tournament. None of the three losses during that fateful stretch early in the season was lopsided and being in each game left Lake feeling like it had what it needed to reverse its fortunes.

“We really found out who we are as a team and where we needed to go. We were in all three games, but we just didn’t finish the way we needed to,” McBride said. “The guys who had walked that path before for our program showed these guys that when the chips are down, it doesn’t mean you have to fold up the tent. You can’t wave any sort of magic wand when it comes to confidence.”

Part of the group that led the turnaround was senior guard Chandler Vaudrin, whose older brother Chaese was a member of several great Lake teams, including the 2012-13 team on which he and his younger brother played together. After a rough patch early in the season, Chandler Vaudrin has settled in and according to McBride, showed better judgment on the floor and been more engaged in finding ways to help his teammates.

Vaudrin, Jimmy Kirven and Jack Lostoski led the charge against McKinley, combining for 42 points to nearly outscore the Bulldogs all by themselves. Vaudrin and Drew Myers also helped Lake control the boards, grabbing six rebounds each against a big, athletic McKinley front line. In their next game, the Blue Streaks showed their defensive prowess in locking up a Jackson team that has several impressive wins to its credit and plenty of offensive firepower.

Regardless of how the league race plays out, with Lake and Jackson neck and neck at the top of the standings, the Blue Streaks project once again as a dangerous team in the postseason. Just as in years past, they’ve lost several talented players from their previous tournament run and likely won’t enter as the top seed in their district, but what they have in abundant supply is the confidence in their ability to pull together and win games against teams with more flash and sizzle.

“I’ve always said that Stark County basketball is really deep and we’re not a team that has to go to Florida or all over the state of Ohio to play great teams because we get that right here in the Federal League,” McBride said. “There’s no greater substitute for confidence."

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB