When Lake City and Cannon Falls met in the third game of the season, each team was still searching for its first win.
The Tigers dominated the boards against the smaller Bombers to claim a 57-46 victory that jump-started their current seven-game winning streak.
The veteran lineup refused to panic after its 0-2 start and that patience has been handsomely rewarded. The Tigers lead the Hiawatha Valley League with a 4-0 mark -- they are 7-2 overall -- heading into a critical stretch of games against Winona Cotter, Pine Island and Triton, the preseason conference favorite.
"If you asked my kids, they're probably doing exactly what they expected," Lake City coach Shawn Sweeney said.
Three-year starter Austin Gilles and two-year starter Drew Swanson highlight the attack, but the progression of senior guards Elliot Grimley and Andrew Pyle has played an equally important role. Senior forward Travis Heitman provides another scoring option for the defensive-minded Tigers, who have allowed just one opponent to reach 50 points during the streak.
While fans are eagerly anticipating the showdown Jan. 20 at Triton, Sweeney's Tigers have their sights set on a talented Ramblers team for now.
"We're still unbeaten at home and that's something the kids take a lot of pride in," Sweeney said. "We're going to make it hard for you to win here. I know our kids are looking forward to the matchup."
When the Bombers played host to Lake City early in the season, they discovered the Tigers weren't a bad road team, either. But Cannon Falls is a dramatically different team than it was a month ago, particularly inside.
Bomber freshman Cedric Dicke has posted a double-double in four of the last six games to key a six-game winning streak. The 6-foot-2 forward is the tallest player in the starting lineup, making his ability to clean the glass especially important.
Cannon Falls junior Mitch Anderson was also inserted into the starting lineup for Brock Johnson after the team's slow start. Anderson has responded with 14 points against Prescott and 25 in a come-from-behind victory over Red Wing to key the turnaround.
"Mitch brings a lot of intensity to the game," Cannon Falls coach Chip Callister said. "Brock's not happy about it, but sometimes that's a good thing."
Johnson played a critical role off the bench in last week's win over Kenyon-Wanamingo. His work defensively helped energize a team who has embraced a more defensive approach after struggling offensively.
"When you're not shooting the ball well, you don't always have control of that," Callister said. "But defense and hustle and rebounding, you can control that."
Cannon Falls puts its streak on the line tonight against Zumbrota-Mazeppa.
- Red Wing senior Isaac Oeltjen is taking a wait-and-see approach with his chronically injured right knee. He's tweaked the knee twice in the last 10 days, including the game against Cannon Falls, and did not play Friday against Hutchinson.
The 6-foot-11 senior has been fitted with a new brace, but significant swelling has made playing impossible thus far. His return date is still up in the air.
"We'll just take it real slow and cautious," Red Wing coach Doug Toivonen said. "He wants to play, but it doesn't do any good to get him back at 75 or 80 percent."
Oeltjen is averaging 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 blocks a game.
- Zumbrota-Mazeppa sophomore Cody Lodermeier's 20-rebound performance last week set a new school record.
The previous mark of 19 was held by Parc Williams (1994) and Tyler McAthie (2003).