Lake Stevens boys, a team without a single returning starter from last season's Wesco North and District champions, last week came excruciatingly close to pulling off another trip to State.
Mark Hein's Vikings, who finished third in Wesco North, opened District play with a 74-72 win at Kamiak on February 8, then lost to Monroe 68-67 at Jackson on February 11. The Vikings needed to win a pair of games this week to qualify for State/Regional.
LAKE 74 AT KAMIAK 72
Lake beat Kamiak 60-43 earlier this season, holding the Knights to 25% shooting and out-rebounding them by 16 in that game.
This time much improved Kamiak was ready to play, buoyed by a raucous home crowd and an energized effort which pushed Lake to the game's final second.
Lake was in top form too, as the teams combined for a playoff-worthy thriller.
The Vikings almost always fall behind early, a trend which held true here, trailing 11-4 before closing the gap to 18-15 at the quarter break. Lake closed out the quarter by making its final five shots, a drive to the basket by Christian Gasca (his signature move), a Brady Pahukoa lay-in, Chad Paulson's three, another lay-in by Pahukoa (who finished the game six-for-six from the field), and Dakota Tomson's 16-footer.
Seth Dodge's sensational second quarter, during which the teams combined to make 18 of 33 field goals while Lake outscored the Knights by 26-21, launched Lake to a 41-39 halftime lead (thanks to his 28-footer at the buzzer). Dodge was four-for-four from the field and made both of his free throws for 11 points in the quarter.
Eight points by Tomson, including a pair of threes, the second of which gave Lake its largest lead of the game at 54-46, paced the Vikings to a 58-54 margin at the third quarter break.
Kamiak turned up the heat in the final period, sparked by sophomore postman Imaan Vicente whose basket with less than two minutes left barely beat the shot clock to give his team a 68-67 lead.
Tomson's basket with 1:30 left regained the lead for Lake at 69-68. He was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.
Dodge's lay-in, assisted by Gasca, increased the margin to 71-68 with 1:11 left.
Kamiak missed four shots in the final minute before Dodge made one of two free throws with 24 seconds left for a 73-68 lead. Vicente nailed a three with three and four-tenths seconds left to cut that to 73-72.
Kamiak then fouled Gasca though only two tenths of a second were subtracted from the clock. Gasca made his first free throw for a 74-72 lead but missed the second, allowing Nicholas Kussman to rebound and dribble upcourt to launch a good-looking three just above the arc at the buzzer which had it been good would have won the game for his team. It banked off the backboard and glanced off the front of the rim. Kussman's drive may have been given an extra second of time by a late-starting clock following the rebound of Gasca's missed free throw.
In what was a total team effort, several Vikings made key contributions. Gasca became the fourth different Viking this season to record a double-double, with 10 assists and 11 points. Dodge (six of nine from the field and five of six from the line) had 18 points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. Gunnar Eklund had six points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. Tomson (six of ten field goals) had 14 points and five assists. Pahukoa had 12 points and six rebounds. Lorin Vandegrift had five rebounds and five points and filled in well for Eklund defensively when the latter was on the bench. Kevin Smith made two of three shots including a three.
Lake made a season-best 58% of its field goals, 29 of 50 (including five of ten threes), but once again hurt itself at the line where it converted only 11 of 19.
Kamiak was 26 of 62 from the field (including six of 19 threes) and was 14 of 20 at the line. The Knights out-rebounded Lake significantly, 39-27 and had 10 turnovers to Lake's 12.
Kussman had 25 points for Kamiak, including three threes. Vicente scored 18 points.
MONROE 68 LAKE 67
This was an especially painful loss for the Vikings who had been recently blown out by the Bearcats in league play (following an early season 58-56 loss at Monroe which hinged on a final second trick play).
Showing pride and poise, Lake was not about to let Monroe have its way in this winner-to-State/Regional test at Jackson.
Yet, after the Bearcats breezed to an 18-9 lead at the quarter break (Lake was two of nine from the field and was out-rebounded by 10-4 in the period) Viking fans were wondering about Lake's chances.
Lake's response was to make seven of 10 shots in the second quarter and hold the Bearcats even in rebounds at seven each, while edging to within 33-29 at intermission.
Lake's rally included eight points by Dodge and five each by Tomson and Eklund. Tomson's three five seconds before halftime put Viking fans in the near-sellout crowd into orbit.
No more than six points separated the teams in the third quarter. Gasca made consecutive driving lay-ins in the opening minute and threes (two of them) by Tomson, and by Smith and by Paulson kept the margin at four (53-49) entering the fateful fourth quarter. Prophetically, Monroe's Joey Roppo sank a three at the quarter's end after Lake had come within 50-49.
Lake missed its first four shots of the fourth quarter but then caught fire with five straight makes, three of them by Pahukoa, to pull ahead on four occasions. Tomson's short jumper with 2:45 left gave Lake a 63-60 lead but Roppo immediately drove the length of the court for a lay-in to cut that to 63-62.
Pahukoa's put-back at 1:30 put Lake ahead 65-63 and Monroe missed a pair of shots and then the front end of a one-and-one with 33 seconds left, with Dodge rebounding and Pahukoa hitting Smith with a full-court pass for a lay-in to make it 67-63 with 28 seconds left.
Roppo swished a three with 18 seconds left to make it 67-66 and after Lake inbounded, Smith had the ball poked away in a crowd of Bearcats (was he fouled? no whistle sounded) by Carl Bunge. Slava Ulanovskiy grabbed the loose ball and tossed it into the basket from underneath to give Monroe a 68-67 lead with nine seconds left.
Smith had time to dribble for a clear look at a three just above the arc with a split second left but his shot fell barely short.
Losses (especially with a trip to State at stake) rarely come as painfully as this one did, but the Vikings' hopes of advancing were still alive, if they would be able to win a pair of consolation-bracket games this week -- that will be reported on in next week's Journal.
Lake made 23 of 52 field goals (including six of 13 threes) for 44%, to Monroe's 57% on 30 of 57 (including three of 14 threes). Lake made 15 of 22 free throws, Monroe five of 10. Rebounds were even at 31 each, and Lake committed 13 turnovers to Monroe's 12.
Roppo's 26 points reflected his senior leadership and skills. Postman Tom Meeus scored 22.
Lake's balanced attack saw Tomson score 18, Dodge 14, Pahukoa 10 and Eklund 8 points.
Eklund had six rebounds and three steals. Dodge had five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Pahukoa had six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Tomson had three assists, three rebounds and a steal. Vandegrift had six rebounds and two assists.