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Lake boys hoops battling through close losses

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

LAKE TWP. Close losses are one of the most difficult experiences a team can go through.

Experiencing close losses over and over is even tougher, leaving a squad feeling like it's on the verge of breaking through and can't quite find the one thing that will put them over the obstacles in its way. Such is life for the Lake Blue Streaks, whose 2-10 record is marked with several narrow defeats as they head into their second pass through Federal League play for the season.

"The attitude of the kids in practice has been awesome. Even our league losses haven't been by a lot, so we're in games and playing decent basketball, we just have to close them out," Lake head coach Tom McBride said.

A recent win over Canton Central Catholic came at just the right time, giving Lake a much-needed momentum boost to start off the new year as well as a break from league play. Although the Crusaders were missing one of their starting guards due to COVID-19-related issues, but for a team trying to figure out who it is and how it needs to play to consistently win games, every victory is a boost.

Although the Blue Streaks knew they had a talented shooter back from last season in junior guard J.J. Vaughan, much of the rest of the roster is either new faces or players stepping into different roles this year. Alongside Vaughan, Bryce Snow, Tyler Stadulis, Cam Horning and Joe Evans have emerged as scoring threats and that quintet combined to score 55 of Lake's 69 points in its win over CCC.

The acclimation process would typically be further along at this point in a season, but the pandemic has delayed, postponed or canceled plenty over the past few months. High school boys basketball has been no exception.

"Due to not having a summer, having new guys into the program and also having guys like Bryce Snow coming back to the team, it's taken us a little while to form our identity," McBride said. "We're still figuring out how do we have to play defensively and offensively and where does our strength lie."

Answering those questions becomes even more difficult when your league schedule features some of the area's best teams, including state-ranked foes like Jackson and Canton McKinley. A young team figuring out its identity has a small margin for errors against such opponents, as illustrated by the close games Lake has played to this point.

What the Blue Streaks do know is that their shooting is one of the centerpieces of their offense.

"Knowing that we have shooters, we have to play more outside in," McBride said. "If I had to put a number on it, I would say we're about four weeks behind where we want to be in a normal season. We're still trying to establish some of the ideals and the things we want to do offensively and defensively."

The base concepts are in place, the veteran coach noted, but some of the more specific wrinkles in game plans aren't quite there yet. One wrinkle that seems unlikely to change is the smaller crowds at games this season. The aforementioned Jackson-McKinley game and contests such as Lake-Green and Lake-Jackson usually draw large, sell-out crowds, but the pandemic has led the state and leagues across Ohio to place limits on attendance.

Entering the year, McBride speculated that the quieter gyms without student sections would have a definite impact on the atmosphere. That has proven to be true and with a team he describes as more of a quiet group, creating energy has been a work in progress.

The question in the remainder of the season is how much progress the Blue Streaks can make across the board. Their answer to that question will go a long way toward determining whether they're able to start turning those close losses into wins and get on a roll as the postseason nears.