Lake Stevens took a big step towards defending its Wesco North title with a pair of key road wins last week, winning at Arlington 68-56 on Dec. 8 and at Stanwood 64-55 on Dec. 11. The wins gave Lake a 2-0 league mark, 3-0 overall.
Lake trailed in both games, by five points at halftime to Arlington, and by four points at Stanwood halfway through the fourth quarter, but it quickly surged ahead behind aggressive defense and scoring balance -- Lake’s signature strengths this season.
LAKE 68, ARLINGTON 56 The Eagles stymied Lake in the first half, leading 15-14 at the quarter break and 32-27 at halftime, but the Vikings outscored Arlington 41-24 after intermission.
Aaron Maw, despite drawing three fouls in the first half, provided much of the spark to Lake’s rally, scoring 15 points, 10 of those in the fourth quarter, along with six rebounds.
Consecutive threes by Zac Israel in the third quarter drew Lake into a tie, and then into a three-point lead at 42-39, enroute to a 48-45 Viking lead after three quarters. Israel helped keep Lake in the game in the early going, nailing a pair of threes in the first quarter. Overall, he was four of six from that range, for 12 points, together with two assists, two steals and two rebounds.
Lake made nine of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter, while blowing out to as much as a 15-point lead. The Vikings made 17 of 22 free throws overall, but Arlington topped that by hitting on 20 of 23. Lake won the important rebounding battle 35 to 30 and each team was whistled for 21 turnovers. Lake outscored Arlington by 21 points via the three-point shot, making nine of 23 to Arlington’s two of 12.
Shane Kaska, who like Maw drew three fouls in the first half, was held to eight points on three of 11 shooting, but he came through with five rebounds and three steals. Point guard Mike Schneider had five rebounds, as did Chris Finley, both of whom played their usual hard-nosed defense.
If there were an award for “best sixth man” it is rapidly being earned by Jerodan Dodge, key off the bench for the Vikings with five points, three assists, six rebounds and two steals.
Jarett Hanson nailed a trio of threes for nine points, and dished out three assists.
LAKE 64, STANWOOD 55 Early-season games don’t come much bigger than this one. A loud, large crowd was on hand at Stanwood to see the teams which battled for the Wesco North championship last season, Lake winning the crown by a single game. Last year they split in the regular season, with the Spartans winning by one point in their home gym. (Here’s a pop quiz for you: when was the last time that Lake won at Stanwood?).
The physical, high-speed battle was ultimately won by Lake’s harassing full-court defense, rallying the Vikings from a 46-42 deficit halfway through the fourth quarter to a near-blowout win by game’s end. Lake was able to accomplish this despite shooting just 30% in the second half (to Stanwood’s 44 percent) and being out-rebounded by the Spartans by 42-35 overall.
The difference? Lake forced Stanwood into 23 turnovers (eight in the fourth quarter), making 14 steals, while taking good care of the ball itself (just nine turnovers).
Just as important was Lake’s finally being able to put the ball in the basket from the free-throw stripe. In the final 1:49 Lake made 13 of 14 free throws, including five of six by Jerodan Dodge. Up to that point Lake had suffered miserably at the line, making four of 16. If Lake were to have lost this game, blame its inability to convert at the line -- up until when it counted most.
Dodge once again was key off the bench, especially in the fourth quarter when in addition to his free throws he notched a steal, an assist and three rebounds.
Schneider was instrumental in keeping Lake in the game throughout, with his tough defense (three consecutive steals in the second quarter helped push Lake to a 32-25 halftime lead, after the Vikings had trailed by 9-8 after one quarter) and some great passes (four assists) plus five rebounds. And he was a scoring threat with his ability to penetrate the key, with 13 points via five of eight field goal attempts.
Once again balance was Lake’s strongest suit. Kaska hasn’t made a three since he opened the season against Shorewood with four straight but even so he scored 17 points against Stanwood, together with eight rebounds and two steals. In fact, Lake has yet to hit the 40 percent shooting mark in a game so far this season (33 percent against Shorewood, 39 percent against Arlington and Stanwood). When the Vikings improve in that category, they’ll be even harder to beat.
Two baskets by Schneider helped Lake stay ahead 42-37 after three quarters, but Spartan guard Drew Haugstad nearly wrenched the game away from Lake with a red-hot fourth quarter. Haugstad opened the quarter with a three-point play then gave his team a 43-42 lead with a three at 6:16, and another at 4:15 to make it 46-42. Lake battled back with Kaska’s lay-in from a Dodge feed at 4:00 and Maw’s steal and lay-in at 3:25 to tie it at 46-all.
Fifteen seconds later another Viking steal led to Maw’s three for a 49-46 Viking lead, while a Hanson steal and lay-in a few seconds later made it 51-46. Shortly after that Lake began its parade of successful free-throws, part of a 14-point Viking run that turned the game into a runaway.
Haugstad’s three at the buzzer cut the final margin to 64-55. His 14-point fourth quarter (he had 20 for the game) was not enough to overcome Lake’s closing rush. Nor was the usual big game by all-league forward/postman Zack Johnson, who despite riding the bench for several minutes with foul trouble tallied 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Maw finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals. Hanson had nine points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Israel’s three points came on a big shot at the halftime buzzer. Lake made 22 of 56 field goals (three of 14 threes) for 39 percent to Stanwood’s 22 of 53 for 42 percent (eight of 26 threes). Lake made 17 of 30 free throws to three of nine for Stanwood.