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Boys' Basketball: Byron holds off Lake City in semifinals

Marc Kjos slashes towards the hoop, getting physical to create separation. He had a team-high 18 points for Lake City in its 66-63 loss to Byron in the Section 1AA semifinals on Saturday. Jake Pfeifer / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 4
Reid Gastner goes up for the layup against Byron on Saturday. Gastner finished the game with 12 points and six rebounds. Jake Pfeifer / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
Kjos pulls up for a shot against Byron on Saturday. Lake City battled with a physical Byron team in the post throughout the game. Jake Pfeifer / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
Nathan Heise drives towards the hoop in Lake City's 66-63 loss to Byron on Saturday. Jake Pfeifer / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

ROCHESTER — Another meeting between Byron and Lake City and another tightly contested matchup decided by three points or less. In the final rendition, it was Byron who came out on top, defeating the Tigers, 66-63, on Saturday at Mayo Civic Center in the Section 1AA semifinals.

Much like the previous meetings, Lake City played from behind for most of the game. The Tigers were never put out of the game, but were also unable to regain the lead it once had in the opening minutes.

"We hoped to get a lead on them; they haven't been in that position against us much," head coach Greg Berge said. "We just got behind. It was close, but I really believe that if we would've gotten a lead on them, the game would have been different and we would have been able to hold them off."

That Tigers inability to surpass the Bears was largely due to the hot shooting of senior Michael Coble of Byron, who had a game-high 35 points. Coble did a little bit of everything for the Bears, shooting 62 percent from the field, was 5 of 10 from behind the arc, 10 of 13 from the free-throw line and grabbed 10 rebounds. During a four-minute stretch in the opening minutes of the second half, Coble went on a 14-point scoring streak, single-handedly turning Byron's one-point lead into a nine-point lead.

"(Coble) played really well. I have not seen him play that well," Berge said. "Hats off to him, he hit a lot of big shots for them."

A physical game

Straight from the outset, both teams seemed destined for another nail-biter finish. The Tigers and Bears went back-and-forth with each other for the first 12 minutes of the game, before Byron went on the game's first significant run to extend their lead to 26-19. In the final five minutes of the first half, the teams went back to trading baskets with each other, but Lake City also picked up five fouls, which proved costly as Byron shot well from the free-throw line.

"They like to play physical and everything they do is inside," said senior Zach Bremer.

Berge added that due to the physicality, it limited what the Tigers were able to do offensively. Isolation plays became the go-to form of scoring for Lake City. The refs were calling a consistently tight game, which put the Tigers' strategy in risk, as the team picked up charge and blocking fouls with the physicality picking up. By the end of the first half, the teams combined for 15 team fouls which would be a precursor to how the second half would proceed.

The second half opened nearly identically to the first, the teams traded baskets in the opening minutes — with Lake City holding the edge — before Byron went on a seven-point run to extend their lead to 11.

More troubling than Byron's latest lead extension however, was that the Tigers' two best rebounders — Bremer and Reid Gastner — each picked up their fourth and third fouls of the game, respectively. Playing with nearly no fouls to give and almost 10 minutes to play caused Lake City to be more conservative in the post.

The Tigers were not fazed, however, as they went on a 16-7 run, trimming Byron's lead to just one point with less than two minutes remaining. The run was not without cost though. Bremer had picked up his fifth foul, relegating him to the bench for the remainder of the game. In the final minutes without Bremer, the Tigers were outrebounded 4 to 1 and Caleb Christenson knocked down clutch free throws to ensure Byron's victory.

"Byron played well and in games like this, it comes down to every possession and they just made a couple more plays than us," Berge said. "We had a chance there at the end, but it really didn't come down to the end."

"If we had just one more play on our side, it might have been a different outcome," senior Marc Kjos said.

"Two great teams, and every little possession mattered," Berge added.

Lake City benefited from a balanced attack, receiving double-digit scoring from four players. Kjos led the way with 18 points, Nathan Heise had 16, and Bremer and Gastner finished with 12 apiece. Bremer also led the team with nine rebounds.

With the loss, Lake City closes out its season at 24-4.

Jake Pfeifer

Jake Pfeifer is a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, which encompasses the Hastings Star Gazette, Farmington-Rosemount Independent Town Pages, South Washington County Bulletin and Woodbury Bulletin. He previously worked as a sports reporter and outdoors editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and as a multimedia artist/editor for Detroit Lakes Newspapers.

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