LA CRESCENT — The La Crescent-Hokah High School boys basketball team had Lake City — ranked third in MSHSL Class 2A — on the ropes, but the Lancers couldn’t find the knockout blow.
After leading for the majority of the game’s first 35 minutes, La Crescent-Hokah saw its late lead slip away in the final 90 seconds as the Tigers earned a hard-fought 59-54 win in front of a near-capacity crowd.
A pair of free throws by senior Josh Kerska gave the Lancers (15-6) a 54-49 lead with 1:54 to play, but Lake City (20-2) took the lead for good on a baseline dunk by Northern Iowa recruit Nate Heise with 42 seconds remaining.
La Crescent-Hokah missed three free throws and had three turnovers in the final two minutes as its lead slipped away, with the Tigers closing the game on a 10-0 run.
“We had a couple of unfortunate situations — the held ball, a couple opportunities at the foul line to build on our lead — I thought the defensive end was as good as you’re going to do against a talented team like that,” Lancers coach Ryan Thibodeau said. “We just didn’t quite get over the hump and make enough plays offensively.”
Senior Isaac Petersen was tasked with defending Heise and did so effectively, holding the talented 6-foot-5 guard to seven points, all on free throws, as he went 0-for-8 from the field in the first half, after which La Crescent-Hokah led 26-24.
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Heise finished with a team-high 20 points after finding more of a rhythm in the second half, but the total was still below his season average of 29.7 points per game entering the contest.
“Isaac Peterson is our best athlete and our best on-the-ball defender,” Thibodeau said. “(Heise) is a tough guy to defend and when he gets a full head of steam going, he’s darn near impossible. Isaac had to do the job to keep him in front as best we could.”
Senior Luke Schwartzhoff, a UW-La Crosse recruit, scored eight straight points in the second half, including a four-point play to give La Crescent-Hokah a 47-41 lead with 6:03 to play that elicited the loudest cheer of the evening from the home crowd.
Lake City proved to be unfazed, as senior Jake Wohlers hit a 3-pointer on the Tigers’ next trip down the court to halve the visitors’ deficit.
“It would have been easy for us to not come back, but we did the little things we needed to at the end to win the game,” Lake City coach Greg Berge said. “This is a tournament-type atmosphere and a tournament-type game. These things get you ready for the tournament. I would have liked to have played better the entire game, but you’ve got to give La Crescent a lot of credit. They played great and they really wanted it more, especially to start the game.”
Despite the late stumble, Thibodeau was happy to see that his team could hold its own with one of the state’s best.
“We know they’re a top level team in our section and we know there’s a very good chance that we’re going to see them again,” Thibodeau said of the Tigers. “It was just about proving we belong and getting our guys believing we belong. I think we do, but to go out there and show it tonight; it was a game that we had in our possession that we just didn’t finish. I think we’ll leave with a lot of high heads today knowing that we can compete with a team like that.”
Schwartzhoff led all scorers with 21 points, while UW-Eau Claire recruit Zach Todd scored 12 points for the Lancers. Wohlers added 14 points for Lake City.