With 6-9 center Lorin Vandegrift (a double-figure scorer and rebounder and key insider defender) sidelined until next month with a leg stress fracture Mark Hein's Vikings needed to find a way to take up the slack against two of its top Wesco 4A North rivals last week, Arlington and Monroe. Lake responded by overcoming a double-digit deficit in each game.
With almost no time to prepare for Vandegrift's absence, the Vikings stepped up to win a pair of thrillers, 72-70 at Arlington and 68-67 over Monroe at home.
The heart-pounding wins kept Lake (3-1 in league, 5-1 overall) a game behind Snohomish in what looks like the most wide-open Wesco title chase in memory.
Lake 72 at Arlington 70 (December 14)
Lake couldn't get much going in the first quarter at Arlington, making three of 14 shots, while the Eagles' Marcus Bryson swished three quick threes to pace his team to a 17-7 lead. Kevin Smith scored five of Lake's seven points in the quarter, an omen of things to come.
The Vikings then went on a 51-point scoring tear over the next two quarters to blast into the lead, during which time Lake made 21 of 29 field goals including six of nine threes.
Lake opened the second quarter with four lay-ins in the first two and a half minutes, two by Smith and one each by Christian Gasca and Dakota Tomson. That opened up the court for some good outside shooting by Moussa Sanoh—two baskets in the quarter—and one each by Devin Stoen and Tomson (a three).
Arlington was also hot in the second quarter, making seven of 13 while Terry Dawn scored nine points for the Eagles. Three close-in baskets in the quarter by forward Dan Boyden reflected the absence of Vandegrift's presence in the paint.
When the smoke had cleared at halftime the scoreboard revealed that Lake had reduced the gap to 34-30.
Lake's red-hot shooting continued into the third quarter. Stoen's lay-in at 5:07 ended a 16-point Viking run as Lake blew ahead by 44-34. That run expanded to 22-2 on another Stoen lay-in at 2:52 as the lead ballooned to 50-36.
Smith started Lake's third quarter splurge with a three, and at 7:10 Brady Pahukoa's lay-in gave Lake its first lead of the game, 35-34. Smith nailed three threes in the quarter and 13 points overall in the period as Lake led by 58-48 entering the fourth.
Lake managed to hold on to the lead after that despite another dozen points by Dawn (who finished with 30) and seven more by Boyden. Stoen's four baskets (he made all seven of his shots in the second half, eight straight overall) helped provide the narrow final margin.
Dawn's pair of free throws at 1:10 brought Arlington to within 70-67, and after a missed Viking free throw the Eagles had a chance to tie it but Dawn's awkward off-balance three with ten seconds left, under heavy Viking pressure, missed badly and Tory Rothgeb snared the rebound, setting up a pair of game-clinching free throws by Gasca. Dawn's uncontested three at the buzzer made the final score 72-70.
The stats reflect the parity of the two teams. Each shot 55 percent from the field, with Arlington helping itself at the line where it made 13 of 14 (to Lake's six of 10). Arlington out-rebounded Lake by 26-22 but Lake committed just eight turnovers to Arlington's 19.
Smith scored 23 points along with five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Tomson, shaking off a mini-slump, scored 17 points plus five assists. Stoen had 16 points. Pahukoa led Lake in rebounding with seven and he also had five assists. Gasca had eight points, seven assists, three rebounds and three steals.
At Lake 68 Monroe 67 (December 16)
Excitement? How about a game-winning buzzer-beating jumper with the student body storming the court?
Once again Lake found a way to win, this time against an up-tempo Monroe squad which held a 10-point fourth quarter lead.
Smith realized every player's fantasy when he knocked down a 16-footer from the left side with the clock ticking down to zero, for the 68-67 Viking win.
That the shot went in was no big surprise.
Once again it was a game of streaks for the Vikings. Lake took a 9-2 lead in the opening three minutes only to see Monroe, with a combo of inside and outside shooting, speed ahead at the quarter break by 19-16.
Stoen's three tied the game at 19-all (he was to make another shot in the quarter to run his streak to ten consecutive makes over the past two games, before finally missing one). Monroe twice led by six points before Lake cut the margin to 31-29 at halftime. Reserves Jared Rahn and Rothgeb each had a basket in the quarter.
Hot shooting by the Bearcats, including a pair of threes by Mitchell Price, spurred Monroe to a 10-point lead twice in the third quarter, before late baskets by Gasca (on a steal) and Tomson reduced the margin to 49-43 at quarter's end. Smith, in foul trouble, was forced to sit out the third quarter.
Two lay-ins by the Bearcats re-upped their lead to 53-43 early in the fourth quarter. Pahukoa drew his fifth foul at 5:53, with Lake trailing by 53-43.
But Smith's return to the game proved to be key to a Viking turnaround, a 14-point flurry which saw five points by Smith and consecutive threes by Stoen and Tomson. The latter basket gave Lake a 55-54 lead at 4:10, and Gasca's lay-in at 3:12 polished off the 14-point run at 57-54. A technical foul against a Monroe player at 5:11 helped launch Lake's rally.
Monroe was to make four lay-ins in the game's final three minutes to nearly steal the win.
Smith missed a driving shot at 33 seconds, rebounded by Peloquin, leading to two free throws by Terrance Day with 28 seconds left. Day made one of two for a 65-64 Bearcat lead.
Smith missed a three but Gasca, wrestling the ball away from a trio of Monroe players, grabbed the miss for Lake's only offensive rebound of the second half. Gasca was fouled on the play and stepped to the line to convert both free throws and a 66-65 Viking lead with 16 seconds left.
Day was temporarily trapped in backcourt by Viking pressure but he spotted Stevenson alone under the basket and fed him for a lay-in. Monroe led 67-66.
Lake inbounded and called time out in backcourt with eight seconds left.
Tomson advanced the ball to the top of the key, then hit Smith, free on the left baseline. The latter spotted up for a 16-footer which swished just before the buzzer. 68-67 Lake, as the student body and other Viking rabids and Smith's teammates rushed to congratulate him.
Ironically, it was Monroe's last-gasp come from behind 68-67 win in the playoffs last season which denied Lake a trip to the State Tournament.
Smith's line consisted of 20 points, three assists, three rebounds and a steal (and only two turnovers). Gasca had 11 points, four assists, six rebounds, four steals, a blocked shot, and zero turnovers. Stoen had 14 points and four assists. Tomson had 11 points, six assists, three rebounds, a steal, and three blocked shots. Pahukoa and Rothgeb had six rebounds each.