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Just another patented Viking comeback

Steve Yingling

South Tahoe High’s rich basketball tradition is about winning. The Vikings have done so much winning under coach Tom Orlich that they haven’t endured a losing season in 20 years.

However, a loss may have actually done “The Tradition” some good on Saturday night. Although the Vikings lost a 64-62 overtime knee-knocker to Galena in the Northern Nevada zone championship, they’re never-surrender mystique broadened with a miraculous comeback that’s becoming commonplace for the program.

“This is South Tahoe. I shouldn’t have been surprised about their comeback,” said Galena star Brian Vaka, who hit a game-turning three-pointer in overtime. “They do this every time we play them. No lead is safe against South Tahoe.”

Galena coach Tom Maurer was just happy his Grizzlies made it into the four-minute extra session.

“I thought they hit two big-time shots. We just wanted to get into overtime and keep our heads,” Maurer said. “They’re great kids, but so our ours. I think our kids would have done the same thing. We never quit, and Tahoe doesn’t quit. That’s just the emphasis of our programs.”

Trailing by seven points with 41.3 seconds left, the Vikings augmented their Top 10 List of Comebacks with another rally that their fans will relive for years to come.

After Galena forward Vaka cashed in one of two free throws to give Galena a comfortable 52-45 lead, the Vikings discovered their touch from beyond the arc that had been missing most of the contest. The comeback started in the unlikely hands of 6-foot-4 center Casey Dowling, who dribbled past midcourt and chucked in an off-balance trey from the top of the key. Then Alan Case stole an inbound pass from Galena center Matt Seibrandt and fed Aaron Buckman on the opposite wing for another three-pointer.

Amazingly, only 17 seconds had elapsed on the clock and the Vikings were within a point, 52-51.

Galena guard Doug Cordova bumped the lead back up to two, 53-51, making 1-of-2 free throws with 20.5 seconds. Cordova missed the second free throw to the right and the Vikings collected the board and raced into transition. Aaron Buckman missed a short baseline jumper with 15 seconds left and Josh David’s tip was short, but Adam Williams was left alone to put back a game-tying rebound basket with :10 left.

Both teams missed excellent opportunities to avoid overtime in the closing seconds. Vaka’s subsequent length-of-the court drive resulted in a missed layup.

“I didn’t have enough energy to get up right,” said Vaka, who was short on the two-footer.

Then Buckman’s three-point attempt hit nothing but rim with 2.6 seconds remaining with Williams standing alone under the basket.

“There was 2.6 seconds left when he shot it, so it would have been real close. It could have gone either way,” said Viking coach Tom Orlich of Buckman’s decision to shoot instead of pass.

Galena led by as many as five points in overtime after falling behind by a point with 2:41 left. After draining a three-pointer at the buzzer, Dowling was engulfed by fans – from Galena – near midcourt as the Grizzlies celebrated their second straight zone championship overtime win over the Vikings.

“I thought we were going to win this game going into overtime,” Dowling said. “We just couldn’t’ get those holds when we needed them.”

But Dowling wasn’t pouting afterward outside a quiet Viking locker room. He was proud of his team’s will to win. The three-year Viking varsity player learned in December that the Vikings were destined for something special.

Down by six points with 20 seconds left in a Nike National Prep Classic contest with Canoga Park, Calif.,the Vikings used two steals and two three-pointers to force overtime. The momentum carried over to overtime as the Vikings won, 90-86.

“Ever since then, I’ve felt this team is special. With a special moment like that behind us I figured we were never out of it,” Dowling said. “Beating Galena at home was real special and going undefeated in league, that’s special.

“We know about all of the great comebacks that Tahoe has had in the past. We’ve stepped it up a notch to where we can be compared to some of those other teams, even though we lost in overtime.

Perhaps the Vikings’ greatest comeback occurred in the 1989 zone finals when South Tahoe scored six consecutive points in the final 10 seconds to devastate Reed, 68-67.

Orlich declined to rate the comeback with some of his other miracles because of one shortcoming.

“In great comebacks you win. After that, you don’t rate them,” he said.

Vaka felt compassion for the Vikings as he prepared to join his teammates for the postgame championship celebration.

“They didn’t fall apart when we got a lead on them. Unfortunately, only one winner comes out of this, but in my eyes we’re both winners tonight,” Vaka said.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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