MICHIGAN CITY -- Lake Station embraced the underdog role in the La Porte County Holiday tournament, right down to its transportation.
"It was raining so bad (Tuesday), my most important thing was I physically got the team here," Eagles coach Rudy Chabes said. "I parked over here, I saw all the big buses, there's our little mini bus. I was the last one in line."
At Wednesday's trophy presentation, LS was first in line, winning the inaugural event 51-39 over New Prairie.
"Any time we go up against a bigger school, we play with a chip on our shoulder," senior Taylor Austin said. "It felt good, real good, to come in and do what people least expected of us, being my senior year, going out with a bang. This is just the beginning."
LS turned heads Tuesday, knocking off previously unbeaten Michigan City, then Austin, a 5-foot-5 speed ball, made sure that didn't go to waste, dribbling through and around New Prairie defenders on her way to 29 points.
"I already know it's an advantage, especially me being quick off the dribble with my first step," Austin said. "I just go out there and do what I've got to do. I feel like they were expecting me to drive to the basket, so I just pulled up and gave my body a rest because I know I've got an outside game, too. I love scoring, but I love getting my teammates involved with that one extra pass. I can rely on them. They're always there. At the end of the day, you need all five players on the court."
Austin stashed 14 second-quarter points in an 18-point first half to carry the Eagles to a 29-27 edge. She then sparked an 8-0 surge out of the gate in the third with a steal, assist and basket as Lake Station seized control. After New Prairie edged within 42-37, the Purdue Northwest commit ignited another run in the fourth, setting up Laila Rogers (11 points, eight rebounds) for a hoop, then stashing seven straight herself.
"She really took control of the game," Chabes said. "She was strongly telling some of the freshmen where to go, what they did wrong. She was only a scorer the first couple years. I feel like she's grown to be a leader now. She's willing to play defense and talk to the young girls. She's the one-man stall when she's dribbling."
Eva Skye-Dodds countered Austin with 13 first-half points for New Prairie, but the Cougars mustered just 12 points in total after the break.
"We couldn't get into our offense," NP coach Aimee Litka said. "Their pressure bothered us. We were unable to get into a flow."
LS was originally scheduled to play in the Lake Central tournament this week, but was bumped from the field when it downsized from eight teams to six. Chabes was on the hunt for games over the holiday break, and after seeing Michigan City needed to fill a slot with Westville going on a COVID pause, he couldn't call Wolves Athletics Director Craig Shaman fast enough.
"We didn't even know who we were playing until like a week ago," Chabes said. "I know they said, Michigan City? in how many days? Craig and coach (Mike) Megyese were gracious enough to tell us to come aboard. They could've said no and I wouldn't have blamed them. We probably couldn't have gotten anybody like this on our schedule. Our school is closed right now, but even with the cost, they said don't worry about it. They were great hosts. I just appreciate it. It's always good to play a big school in a big-school atmosphere. These two teams were senior-heavy. We've got a young group. We only have two seniors. The rest are freshmen and sophomores. This is a good test for sectionals. It can only help us."
Chabes also hopes it's a springboard to bigger things for Class 2A Lake Station, which came into the event with a 6-2 record but no signature wins and left at 8-2 with a lot more credibility.
"We did it on the fly," he said. "We didn't know who we were going to play until about a week ago. With this season, you don't know who you're go to play. When I can get a big school, I love it. I accept the challenge, they accept the challenge. They weren't content just beating a big school. I'm just proud of how they competed."
The big question, as the Eagles headed home, was, will they be asked back to defend their title? Knocking off the hosts may not have had boosted their chances, but Chabes, at the moment, wasn't too concerned. He had to go warm up the mini-bus.
"I commend all the coaches around the Region for trying to keep this season going," he said. "They're not going to school together. They're all online. Some of these girls, games and practice are their only interaction. This is the only way they're bonding. They've got to learn to like each other. It's a very hard thing to do. It's good to see them work together."
Lake Station (8-2) won the inaugural La Porte County
Holiday Tournament, defeating host Michigan City on
Tuesday and New Prairie on Wednesday.