WELLINGTON — The road to the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championship now runs through Wellington.
Alexis Lehmkuhl and Jalen Gibbs combined for 31 points, 26 rebounds and nine steals Wednesday night, powering the Dukes to a 49-28 victory over Buckeye in a battle for first place in the league.
Wellington (7-2, 6-0) led from wire to wire — building 26-2 and 29-4 advantages late in the second quarter — en route to moving 11⁄2 games ahead of the Bucks (5-7, 5-2) as the season nears its midpoint.
“We had two good days of practice preparing for Buckeye and everyone came out ready to go tonight,” Dukes coach Nathan Morris said. “You know, these ladies, they can play a little bit.
“We really do have a great group of girls who are so much fun to watch play together. There is a long way to go in the league, but they deserve to be in this position. They’ve earned it.”
Wellington’s trio of talented 6-footers dominated from start to finish, taking turns swatting shots and deflecting balls. It was the primary reason why the Bucks shot a meager 18 percent from the field and committed 24 turnovers in their second-lowest scoring game.
Junior center Lehmkuhl scored 16 points, had 13 rebounds, four blocks and three steals, while sophomore forward Gibbs had 15 points, 13 boards, six steals and three blocks. Junior forward Erin Frenk added seven points, six boards, three assists and three blocks.
“We needed to play more physically on defense, but there is only so much you can do because of their length,” Buckeye center Grace Allen said. “Our whole team works hard, so I’m not sure why we came out slow. We do have a speed advantage and I think we’ll try to use that when we see them again.”
Sophomore Allen paced the Bucks with seven points, nine rebounds, two assists and three blocks in a solid performance, but was prevented from taking over the game as usual. Morris employed Lehmkuhl and Frenk to keep her occupied whenever she went to the glass.
Dukes point guard Hope Diermyer — the only senior in the teams’ starting lineups — also kept Allen busy on defense. She made numerous crisp entry passes and well-placed lobs in finishing with eight points and a game-high 10 assists.
Sophomore guard Lexi Wright rounded out Wellington’s scorers with three points. Sophomore forward Madison Ross had seven points and junior guard Gabby Glancy dished out four assists for Buckeye, which will host the Dukes in their Feb. 14 regular-season finale.
“When you’re playing the No. 1 team in the league, especially on their floor, you’ve got to start the game by making shots and playing strong defense,” Bucks coach Ron Clady said. “Wellington has a lot of weapons and we just didn’t match their level of play. Hopefully, we’ll get back to our winning ways and make the last game of the season mean something for both of us.”