MINNEAPOLIS-It's not always easy being for a freshman to make an impact, especially on a team with nearly all juniors. Yet, Justin Wohlers has made it work and is finding his groove at the right time for the Lake City boys' basketball team.
"He's a very smart player," said Lake City head coach Greg Berge. "It's not easy for a freshman to play at this level. He's been starting most of the year for us. He's had some big games before and tonight was another one for him."
Wohlers made 3-of-7 from behind the arc and tallied 11 points as the Tigers bested Melrose 60-44 in a Class AA quarterfinal at the Target Center Wednesday night.
He didn't just shoot well, Wohlers also played an all-around game as he hauled in six rebounds. He routinely found the soft spot in the Dutchmen defense and made himself available for Nathan Heise or Reid Gastner to find in the corner.
"They were leaving me off in the corner," Wohlers said. "So I had a little more space there. Nate and Reid were finding it, and I was able to hit the three when needed ... It's really fun because they leave me wide-open and I can hit those shots. That was really important for our team (tonight) because it got everyone fired up."
Wohlers said he gained confidence and calmed the tournament nerves a few minutes into the game.
"Rebounds have been pretty important to me," Wohlers said. "I can get rebounds to settle me into the game a little more."
The Tigers showed why they came in as the best Class AA shooting team in the tournament. Collectively, the Tigers shot 50 percent from the field and a whopping 42 percent from behind the arc. Justin Wohlers, Reid Gastner and Jake Wohlers combined for seven 3-pointers.
It was a game in which everyone shot well.
"We're a confident bunch," Berge said. "They've played in a lot of big games. They know how to win. We've won in a lot of different ways this year."
Heise said everything starts with making a drive to the basket. Getting the defense to collapse is just what he wants the defense to do.
"Driving the basket and kicking it out, that's what our offense is based upon," Heise said. "We have such good shooters like Justin showed, Reid and Jake showed today ... Maybe they didn't think of (Wohlers) as much of a shooter, but he showed that today by making three 3s. That was huge for us. It gave us a ton of momentum and confidence."
In the second half, the Tigers started to widen its lead. The Tigers went on a 6-0 run to start the second. Gastner hit one of his two 3-pointers with 11 minutes, 53 seconds to go in the game to put the Tigers up 47-31. The Dutchmen struggled from that point on keeping up with the Tigers.
With under 9:30 to go, Gastner stole the ball at midcourt and dished it to Heise for the layup to give Lake City a 20-point lead. The Dutchmen answered with six points but the Tigers maintained the huge lead in the final six minutes of the game.
Melrose sent Lake City to the free-throw line while trailing, and the Tigers were equally as good. Heise and Wohler said the team is confident in closing out games with anyone at the line.
"There's no weakness at the line," Heise said. "Maybe they think (Hietman) is a big guy he can't shoot free throws. He's been an amazing free throw shooter. Plus Reid, Jake, they can't really single out one person to foul."
Lake City, currently on a 19-game win streak, next faces Minnehaha Academy in semifinal at the Target Center at 6 p.m. Friday. The Redhawks handedly defeated St. Peter 78-47 on Wednesday.