Boys Basketball: Caledonia sends Tigers home for season
ROCHESTER – For a time, neither team could find a rhythm. Caledonia could not hit on several wide-open looks, while Lake City could not even get a shot off. The difference in the struggles was simple to quantify, and even easier to identify: the Tigers were turning the ball over on nearly every trip down the floor, the Warriors, while misfiring from 3-point distance, were completely controlling the offensive boards.
After the first four minutes went by, both teams settled in. But the early results held through the rest of Tuesday’s Sub-section 1AA East semifinals, as Caledonia held off Lake City, 91-78.
“We wanted to start in zone, in a lot of ways to protect our guys a little bit,” said Tigers head coach Greg Berge. “(We wanted) to see if they were able to shoot early on in the (Mayo Civic Center) Arena. They missed some shots early, but they got some offensive boards, and that’s the tough part about playing a zone. But we’ve got to keep our guys out of foul trouble, too. And we did that for the most part and we were able to go man.
“But they built a little bit of a lead,” Berge continued. “And then we played pretty even after the first eight minutes of the game.”
But “even” was not going to cut it for the Tigers, who trailed 10-2 with 15 minutes, 3 seconds to go in the first half. By the 10:22 mark, the Warriors’ advantage was up to 20-9.
The key to extending the lead was Caledonia’s sudden switch from bricking 3-pointers, to sinking them without touching the rim. Combined with the ability to snag nearly every rebound, the Warriors were either hitting from distance, or scoring from underneath the basket.
“We weren’t used to the long rebounds,” said Lake City senior Cory Dick, who scored 17 points in his final high school game. “They were a good 3-point shooting team, and we’ve never played a team that relied so heavily on the 3-point (shot) … We played well after we figured out what was going on, after we got down. That first two-minute span killed us, though, down eight points, down 10 points. After that it was just a battle trying to get back in it. But we just couldn’t.”
The teams alternated baskets for much of the first half, but where the Tigers were scoring at the rim and hitting free throws, the Warriors were launching bombs. After 18 minutes, the score sat at 46-25 in favor of Caledonia. The Warriors hit seven 3-pointers, and added a 3-point play, while Lake City had just seven first-half field goals, only two of which were worth more than two points.
After the break, the Tigers were able go on a bit of a run thanks to two 3-pointers from sophomore Jessie Oliver, and five points from Dick. But Caledonia would hit 3-pointers on three of their next four possessions.
“Caledonia is a great team, give them all the credit in the world,” said senior Reid Lundell, who scored 17 points. “They couldn’t miss. They just kept knocking down shots. And they killed us on the boards early in the game. We dug ourselves a big hole, and it’s tough to comeback against a team like that. Not the way we wanted it to end. But it has to end sometime, I guess.”
Caledonia totaled 38 rebounds in the game, half of which were on the offensive end. Lake City also split its rebounds evenly between ends of the floor, but came up with just 24 boards over the 36 minutes of play.
Oliver would match Dick with 16 points, while Brady Kuchinka’s 17 gave the Tigers a second player with that total. The Warriors also had four players in double-digits with Kyle Sorenson (19), Josh Nord (18), Austin Bauer (15) and Colton Lampert (12) accounting for much of Caldeonia’s scoring.
In the end, the 3-point difference was just one, 11-10 in favor of the Warriors. But Caledonia won the second-chance battle 25-14 to go along with six blocked shots.
Dick led the Tigers with six rebounds and five assists, and tying Kuchinka and Eli Custer with two steals.
Lake City ends the season 16-10, though seven of those losses came in the first nine games as the Tigers dealt with injuries. After that stretch, Lake City did not lose two-in-a-row, going on two five-game winning streaks, with a four-game stretch in the middle. Dick, Lundell and Berge all had some wish about being able to play a whole season while healthy.
“Obviously you think about what could have been if we were healthy the whole season and how it would have went. But you can’t go back and change it. It is what it is. It was a good year, but,” Lundell said, before trailing off.
The Tigers lose five seniors to graduation, but did start three sophomores in Kuchinka, Custer and Oliver. Should a couple underclassmen step up next winter, the battles with Caledonia – who will lose only Nord and center West Spier – could be an annual confrontation.
“I can’t say enough about our seniors,” Berge said. “They’re such a great group of kids. They’re great students, great athletes and they’ll be very successful in all they do. This group was a joy to coach all season long … It’s going to be tough to lose this senior group. At the same time, I think we’ve got a pretty bright future with some young kids.”