Special to the Mirror
PORTAGE - The Portage Area High School girls basketball team can score and defend every night. Combine that with the team's ever-building confidence stemming from a now 15-game winning streak and you have a lethal combination.
North Star found out how dangerous Portage is in a battle between the top two teams in the WestPAC North division. Portage jumped out to a 27-9 lead and cruised to a 57-29 victory Friday.
"This was the biggest game of the season so far for us," Portage coach Lance Hudak said. "It was our chance to clinch the North tonight and the girls were up for that. They came out ready to play. They were flying around on defense, in their face. Every time they touched the ball, there was somebody there. Our defense turns into our offense. When you have a combination of shooting that well and playing defense like that, you're going to get good starts."
Portage guard Lexi Wozniak scored the game's first eight points on her own. The sophomore converted a Paisley Zatek steal into a layup. The next two times down the floor, Wozniak made consecutive 3-pointers from the wing for an 8-0 lead less than 2 minutes into the game.
North Star (10-7, 7-3 WestPAC North) cut the lead to 10-5 before the Lady Mustangs exploded for 11 straight points. Wozniak hit another trey and converted a three-point play. Olivia McCabe finished a three-point play and Emily Chobany scored a layup off a Cougars turnover during the run.
Wozniak came in averaging 18.5 points over the previous four games. The sharpshooter scored a career-high 22 points (all in the first half, including five 3-pointers) to send Portage to its second consecutive WestPAC title game appearance on Feb. 15.
"Right now Lexi is zoned in, and every once in a while it hits the rim," Hudak said. "Everybody is shooting well, Paisley hit a couple 3s tonight. We're not one-dimensional. We can drive the basketball. If they're going to sag and stop that, we're going to kick it out and look for the 3 and hit that."
North Star couldn't stop Portage's weaving dribble drive that created open looks for its vast array of shooters.
"They penetrate, kick it out and they're getting the inside-out look at it and it's a good quality shot," North Star coach Randy Schrock said. "It's a catch and shoot, and they were just knocking them down. We weren't able to stop that."
Portage finished the quarter leading 27-9. Wozniak scored 14 points in the first.
The Mustangs (16-1, 10-0 WestPAC North) scored all of the 16 points in the second quarter, shutting out the Cougars from the field for a span of 12:15. Wozniak and Zatek each hit two 3-pointers in the second. North Star couldn't find a rhythm all night against the stifling Portage defense.
"They're a good team," Schrock said. "They only have one loss, they're a veteran team. Their defense is good. They're a solid team throughout and we know that."
Between the first three quarters, Portage posted an insurmountable 21-0 run to lead 46-9 early in the third.
McCabe and Chobany each scored nine points, and both have scored well over 1,000 career points each.
"These girls trust each other, and that's what you see in that ball movement," Hudak said. "They're sharing the wealth, they're making that extra pass, there's always somebody more open and we're really starting to realize that.''
Freshman Jackie Stanko led North Star with 11 points.
NORTH STAR (29): Novak 1 1-3 3, Carmean 0 0-0 0, Rice 2 0-0 4, Zuchelli 2 0-1 5, Stanko 3 5-5 11, Joseph 2 0-0 4, Berkebile 0 2-2 2, Miller 0 0-2 0, Zufall 0 0-0 0, Moss 0 0-0 0. Totals - 10 8-13 29.
PORTAGE (57): Wozniak 8 1-1 22, Nolan 1 0-1 2, Zatek 3 0-0 8, E. Chobany 4 1-2 9, O. McCabe 3 3-4 9, A. Chobany 0 0-0 0, K. Jubina 0 3-3 3, Baker 0 0-0 0, C. Jubina 0 0-0 0, Crum 0 0-0 0, L. McCabe 1 2-2 4, Caurvina 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 10-13 57.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
North Star9 0 6 14 - 29
Portage27 16 8 6 - 57
3-point goals: North Star 1 (Zuchelli); Portage 7 (Wozniak 5, Zatek 2).
Records: North Star (10-7, 7-3 WestPAC North); Portage (16-1, 10-0 WestPAC North).
Officials: Joe Bilka, Sue Kovensky, Bill Straesser.
JV: Portage, 24-23.