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Boys Basketball: Byron snatches HVL championship from Lake City

Lake City's Josh Atkinson (middle) attempts a layup through a pair of Byron defenders during the second half of the Hiawatha Valley League championship game Saturday at Lincoln High School in Lake City.1 / 4
Lake City's Reid Lundell (20) shoots over Byron's Buster Meyer during the first half Saturday in Lake City. Lundell had a team-high 15 points, but Byron came away with the 50-42 victory to clinch the Hiawatha Valley League championship.2 / 4
Lake City's Jake Griebenow (24) races down the baseline during the first half of Saturday's Hiawatha Valley League championship game against Byron at Lincoln High School.3 / 4
Lake City's Mitch Kuchinka (21) orchestrates the Tigers' offense during Saturday's HVL championship game against Byron in Lake City.4 / 4

LAKE CITY - In the past week, the Lake City boys basketball team has played three outstanding halves of basketball against 10th-ranked (2A) Byron.

On Tuesday, the Hiawatha Valley League Blue Division champion Tigers pounced on the HVL Gold champion Bears for a 60-43 victory in Byron. And midway through Saturday's rematch for the HVL championship, Lake City looked ready for another win, leading 29-18 at halftime.

"We came out, executed and hit open shots from different people," said Tigers head coach Shawn Sweeney. "It was a continuation of our game there on Tuesday. We came into halftime feeling pretty good."

But with its back against the wall, Byron bit back in a big way.

With suffocating man-to-man defense, the Bears held the Tigers to 13 points on 5 of 28 shooting in the second half, climbing back from a double-digit deficit to grab a 50-42 victory at Lincoln High School.

"It's not about getting back, or revenge. It's about coming out and playing the way you can play," said Byron head coach Kerry Linbo. "We knew we hadn't played that way. Before the (section) tournament starts, it was about trying to come back and give a great effort and play well together. ... Hopefully we've gotten over the hump a little bit."

The second-half comeback was in complete contrast to the first half, where Lake City jumped out to an 11-0 lead in the first five minutes. The Tigers (20-4) led by as much as 15 with 4 minutes, 57 seconds left in the half, thanks to Reid Lundell's 13 first-half points.

"It's really nice having teammates that can find the ball," said Lundell, who had a team-high 15 points. "They'll drive to the hoop and I'll cut and find open lanes and they find me."

Senior point guard Mitch Kuchinka also chipped in with some long-range jumpers and key rebounds in the first half. As a team, Lake City grabbed 13 offensive boards, resulting in 11 second-chance points.

"I'll just step in when I need to and try to hit a shot, just play my role," said Kuchinka, who had six points and three rebounds.

After Tuesday's blowout loss, the Bears decided to play a zone defense on Saturday. The results were hardly what Byron envisioned in the first half, as Lake City shot 4 of 7 from behind the 3-point line and 8 of 16 from inside the arc.

Switching back to a man defense, things looked rough to start as Ben Schramski hit a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Tigers up 32-18.

But from that point, the Bears (21-4) never let Schramski touch the ball in the corner without a double team swarming the ball. Schramski, Lake City's leading scorer, went 2 of 8 from 3-point range, finishing with nine points.

"We went back to our bread and butter (on defense)," Linbo said, "and I thought the second half, we finally got to play the way we can defensively."

Sweeney added, "They did a good job of checking Schramski. They were going to have to limit his touches and they tired him out."

Starting with a putback by Brandon Schubert with 15:31 left, Byron went on a 19-0 run, taking a 34-32 lead on a 3-pointer by Jack Nelson with 10:13 left.

Mitch Kuchinka buried a 3-pointer to end the Bears' run, sparking an 8-point swing for Lake City as Jake Griebenow nailed a three and Brady Kuchinka got a layup on a fast break to give the Tigers a 40-37 advantage with 6:54 left. Lundell snapped off a deep 2-pointer with 4:02 left, putting Lake City up 42-39.

It would be the last time the Tigers got on the scoreboard, as Byron ended the game on an 11-0 run. The Bears took the lead for good after Joe Smith sank a pair of free throws with 3:28 left. In the final four minutes, Byron went 9 of 10 from the free-throw line, finishing the game 14 of 18 from the charity stripe.

"Give credit to Byron for ramping it up defensively," Sweeney said. "We had trouble doing what we wanted. We did a little too much standing for me. ... At the end, they were able to hit free throws and pull away with that."

Finishing 5-for-6 from the free-throw line and 2 of 6 from 3-point range, Buster Meyer led the Bears with 15 points. Nelson added 14 in the victory.

Both Lake City and Byron will return to action on Thursday for the first round of the Section 1AA-West playoffs. Seedings will be announced on Sunday.

"It's a tough loss, but we battled hard and we'll be ready for the playoffs," Lundell said. "We still have confidence; we'll be ready."

With a 1-1 record this season against the Bears, the Tiger players are hoping for a rubber match in section play.

"We hope we can see them again," Mitch Kuchinka said. "It'd be nice to see them again."

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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