South Tahoe boys basketball edges Lowry in Div. I-A Northern League semifinals, punches ticket to state tournament | TahoeDailyTribune.com

South Tahoe boys basketball edges Lowry in Div. I-A Northern League semifinals, punches ticket to state tournament

Anthony Gentile | agentile@tahoedailytribune.com

For the first time in a half-decade, the South Tahoe boys basketball team will end its season vying for the ultimate prize. The third-seeded Vikings edged second-seeded Lowry 44-41 in the Div. I-A Northern League semifinals Friday, Feb. 19, at North Valleys High, punching their ticket to the state tournament in dramatic fashion.

"It is an important thing and it's great to finally be back," Vikings coach Joby Cefalu said. "It's been one fight after another this year — possession by possession, we've gotten to where we've wanted to be."

The following afternoon, Saturday, Feb. 20, South Tahoe (14-15) took top-seeded Elko to final seconds in the league championship. The Vikings ultimately fell short in a heartbreaking 45-43 loss that sends them to state as the North's second seed.

"The kids battled and I couldn't be more proud of any team I've had," Cefalu said. "They really wanted this one — beating Elko would have been great."

“It is an important thing and it’s great to finally be back.”Joby CefaluVikings head coach

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The Vikings trailed the Indians 14-8 after the first quarter, and opened the second quarter on a 10-1 that included seven straight points from senior Denzel Perez. South Tahoe then scored the last four points of the first half to take a 25-21 lead into the break.

In the third quarter, South Tahoe opened up a nine-point lead on free throws from junior Tommy Cefalu with 2:31 left — but was held scoreless the rest of the way. After the free throws Indians junior Eric Klekas scored on back-to-back possessions as part of his game-high 20 points, cutting the Vikings' lead to 32-27.

"It was really nice for the boys not being satisfied with just getting to state and wanting to win the region," Cefalu said.

South Tahoe took a 40-37 lead on a putback from senior Ethan Strain, but Elko answered with two straight 3-pointers to take its first lead of the second half. After Klekas hit a trey with 1:47 left to make it 43-40, Cefalu answered from beyond the arc 19 seconds later to tie the game and set up a dramatic finish.

Following back-to-back turnovers, Elko delivered the decisive blow in the final seconds. Klekas drove into the lane and slid a bounce pass past South Tahoe's collapsing defense to Jeron Yopps in the low block — and the sophomore finished a right-handed layup to put the Indians in front with 2.9 seconds left.

The Vikings had one last desperation chance, but a half-court shot from junior Harry Moses-Chakmakis hit the front of the rim at the buzzer. South Tahoe's devastation was elation for Elko, who rallied to win its fifth straight regional championship.

"We'll head into state and use this as fuel for the fire," Cefalu said.

Cefalu led South Tahoe with 10 points in the title game, and was the only Viking in double figures. Perez and Strain each scored nine while senior Blake Blocker finished with eight.

A night earlier, South Tahoe prevailed in a defensive battle against Lowry 44-41 to qualify for state for the first time in five seasons. Senior Joe Albrecht scored the go-ahead points by sinking a pair of free throws with 28.5 seconds to play, then the Vikings made a defensive stop to secure the victory.

"We knew it would take all of us working together to beat them," Albrecht said. "Every single person stepped up and we pulled it off."

With a state berth on the line, neither team led by more than five points in a contest that was tight throughout. South Tahoe erased a 19-14 halftime deficit by scoring the first nine points of the second half, but still trailed by two at the end of the third quarter.

In a back-and-forth fourth quarter, Blocker hit a 3-pointer with 2:55 left to put the Vikings ahead 40-39. Lowry went back ahead with 1:55 to play on a one-handed drive from senior Nathan Lutzow — but didn't score the rest of the way.

With 28.5 seconds left, Albrecht was fouled near the hoop and stepped to the line. He calmly sank both free throws to give the Vikings a decisive lead.

"I had more confidence than I thought I would," Albrecht said. "Until pretty recently, my free throws have been pretty bad."

The Buckaroos missed two shots on the next possession, and Perez secured the rebound with 0.4 seconds left. He made a pair of free throws, and Lowry couldn't get a shot off after — the Vikings celebrated their state berth by rushing the court in frenzied mob.

"I watched Denzel grab it, and as soon as he grabbed the ball I freaked out," Blocker said. "I knew it was over and we were celebrating."

Blocker led South Tahoe with 17 points, including 15 in the second half. Senior Omar Guerrero had a game-high 19 points for Lowry, who had a streak of seven straight state tournament appearances snapped by the Vikings.

"I thought before the game that it was our turn, because I had confidence in these boys," Cefalu said. "It came down to heart. The team that wanted it the most was going to get it — and we wanted it the most."

South Tahoe enters the Div. I-A State tournament as the North's second seed, and will meet South top seed Desert Pines (Las Vegas) in the semifinals Friday, Feb. 26, at Reno High. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:40 p.m.

North top seed Elko and South second seed Clark (Las Vegas) will meet in the second semifinal Friday at 8 p.m. The Div. I-A State championship game will be held at 8:10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at Lawlor Events Center on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Div. I-A Northern League Tournament

Feb. 18-20 at North Valleys

Quarterfinals

(3) South Tahoe 69, (6) Spring Creek 66

(4) Fernley 64, (5) Fallon 48

Semifinals

South Tahoe 44, (2) Lowry 41

(1) Elko 67, Fernley 49

Championship

Elko 45, South Tahoe 43