WINGATE – The Butler girls basketball team limped into Winthrop University’s Cuddy Arena with a very different vibe after ending their 15-game win streak the night before against Rocky River, a team the Bulldogs had drilled by 27 points the first time they met in mid December.
But, on Jan. 25, the Bulldogs had struggled when it mattered most, getting outscored 12-4 in the decisive fourth quarter.
Michala Funderburk hit seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points. Michaela Lane finished with another double-double, this one in super impressive fashion with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Michaela Dixon had six points, but 11 rebounds.
But none of it was enough to overcome the Ravens.
“All three of the Michaela’s have been good for us all year,” Butler coach Mark Sanders said. “But they played harder than us. They wanted it more. We have to ready to play when that clock goes off to start the game. We have to be ready before we even step on the court. We just weren’t ready.”
When the ball tipped at Wingate on Jan. 26, the Bulldogs still didn’t appear ready as the Yellow Jackets jumped out to an early 5-0 lead that made Sanders take immediate action by pulling three of his starters. The move expanded his bench a couple of players deeper than normal but, he said, hopefully sent a message.
“It was very sloppy, and we knew it was going to be because of that loss (to Rocky River),” he said. “I took three of them out early. It wasn’t working. They needed somebody to re-enforce what we’re trying to do and what we talked about. We were supposed to playing full court man-to-man and we were playing half court man-to-man. The others that went in were doing what they were supposed to do, so that’s why they got to stay in longer.”
After Forest Hills expanded its lead to 9-4 minutes later, the Bulldogs went on a crushing 23-2 run that pushed a five-point deficit to an 18-point halftime lead they maintained before cruising to a 66-39 win.
Lane was fantastic again as she dominated inside, ran the break and played great interior defense. The junior finished with a game-high 16 points to go with 16 rebounds and five steals.
Ashlynn Dotson scored 12 points and Payton Sutton had 12 points to go with nine rebounds, seven assists and seven steals, sparking the big Butler run.
“We eventually started playing some defense,” Sanders said. “We started playing aggressive and getting in some passing lanes. That’s what we weren’t doing in the first half. Once Payton got a couple of steals and got going, then everybody started.”
Although the Bulldogs started sluggish against Forest Hills and dropped their first conference game to Rocky River, they are still in very good shape for a No. 1 seed, a first-round playoff bye and home court advantage.
Butler (16-2) is tied with Hickory Ridge (15-2) with one loss in league play after the loss to the Ravens, who sit at 13-2 overall and 7-2 in league play, just a game back.
Myers Park is fourth at 5-3 overall but would need some help to comeback and win the league title.
Hickory Ridge and Rocky River still have to play their second game of the season on Feb. 1, but Butler and the Ragin’ Bulls could meet for the title on Feb. 8.
Either way, Sanders said he hopes after the loss and a sluggish start at Wingate his team can bounce back and regain some of the swagger that has them so highly regarded and ranked No. 8 in the Maxpreps.com’s 4A poll used for playoff seeding.
“The other night they played harder than we did and they wanted it more than we did,” Sanders said. “That taught us a lesson. It was a tough lesson, but sometimes you need that lesson. Hopefully, that’s going to be a good thing for us.”