LAKE CITY — Hosting its final home game of the season, the Lake City boys’ basketball team made it count for the fans in attendance as the Tigers defeated St. Charles in the final minute of regulation on Friday, 61-60.
Those fans, although limited in number, made their presence known for both the host Tigers and visiting Saints. Aside from the regular cast of parents and family members, student sections made their return and were as boisterous as ever. For the first time this season, a tournament game finally felt like a tournament game. And attendees rooting for Lake City saw their support rewarded when Justin Wohlers hit what ended up being the game-winning shot with 52 seconds left in the second half.
However, getting to the point where a game-winning shot was even possible was a chore for Lake City. Throughout the entire game the Tigers held a lead for less than four total minutes, and at one point in the second half were down by 11 points.
Lake City’s struggles began early as they dug themselves into a 13-4 deficit in the first four minutes of the game. The Tigers spent the next seven minutes battling back to a two-point deficit, but seemingly every time they were within one possession or tied the game, St. Charles had an answer.
That answer more often than not came from their star senior Kooper Vaughn. To Lake City’s credit, they knew Vaughn was going to present a problem and did everything from traps to double teams to try and stop him. None of it worked as he fired off shots left and right with ease, finishing the night with a game-high 37 points.
“Kooper Vaughn is unreal. He’s hitting step-back threes. We didn’t let him get to the rim. We didn’t let him get to the free-throw line, which is a big part of our goal,” Lake City head boys’ basketball coach Greg Berge said. “You got to give him credit for hitting some of those shots and hitting them consistently.”
Vaughn and crew battled back and forth with Lake City for the remainder of the first half, taking a 34-31 lead into the break. In the opening minutes of the second half, it was much of the same back-and-forth scoring. That remained until five minutes into the half that is. From that point and for the next five minutes, St. Charles went on a 17-5 run and were suddenly up by 11 points with a little more than seven minutes to play.
With a young roster, Lake City could have responded in one of two ways. They could either prove the moment wasn’t too big for them and start chipping away at the lead or they could make the mistakes that many young teams make and force the issue, risking an even larger deficit with potentially bad possessions.
The Tigers chose the first option and Berge said he couldn’t have been more proud.
“They’re young and they just compete and don’t give up. Their heads don’t get down and good things happen when you do that,” he said. “We made a couple plays late, Justin (Wohlers) had a huge shot and our freshmen got some big boards inside. So proud of these guys.”
Facing an 11-point deficit and seven minutes left to play, Lake City began slowly chipping away and hit the climax when Wohlers hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 52 seconds left on the clock. Over those seven minutes, Lake City went on a 14-2 run.
With the win, Lake City, 13-5, advances to play No. 2 seed Stewartville on Monday at Kasson-Mantorville. The winner of that game would face either Caledonia or Plainview-Elgin-Millville for the Section 1AA title on Wednesday.
Keegan Ryan led Lake City in scoring with 15 points. Hunter Lorenson scored 13, Justin Wohlers (12), Jaden Shones (10) and Carson Matzke (9). Zach Dather also added two points. Wohlers led the Tigers in rebounds with 12, and tied for a team-high three assists with Shones. Lorenson led the team with three steals and Ryan contributed seven rebounds.
As a team, Lake City went 7-for-19 on 3-pointers and 14-of-17 at the free-throw line.