South Tahoe boys b-ball delivers crucial split, still in playoff hunt
The South Tahoe boys basketball team needed to return from its longest league road trip of the season with at least one win to keep its postseason hopes alive — and did exactly that. A night after losing at league-leading Elko, the Vikings delivered a 44-24 victory at Spring Creek on Saturday to stay within a game of the last playoff spot in Div. I-A Northern League.
South Tahoe (10-11, 6-6 I-A Northern) earned the crucial split with a stifling defensive performance Saturday afternoon. The Vikings beat Spring Creek 44-24, completing a sweep of the Spartans while preventing them from locking up a playoff berth.
“We came out with a defensive game plan, and we really executed it well,” Vikings head coach Joby Cefalu said. “The kids knew that it was an important game — and they battled.”
The Vikings had a three-point lead after the first quarter, and led 14-13 after a defensive-minded first half. Spring Creek (12-8, 9-3) outscored STHS 5-3 in the second quarter to make it a tight game headed into the break, after a frame that included a stretch of six straight South Tahoe turnovers.
Sparked by a 7-0 run to start the third quarter, South Tahoe steadily pulled away from the Spartans in the second half. The Vikings led by eight after the third quarter, and broke free from the defensive struggle with a 17-point fourth quarter.
Spring Creek’s 24 points marked both its season low and the least points South Tahoe has allowed all year. The Vikings held the Spartans to 16-percent shooting with suffocating man-to-man defense that featured a rotation of 10 players.
“We have improved our man-to-man to the point where we have really become a lockdown team,” Cefalu said. “We can switch screens, we can hedge screens and still cover them up — they tried running a flex and a couple double screens to open up their shooters.”
Guard Denzel Perez scored a game-high 10 points for South Tahoe in the victory, including a pair of three-pointers. Forward Stone Merkley scored eight, guard Chase Waterman and forward Tyler Hogbin finished with six apiece and guard Kirby David added six.
“Our kids were patient — they ran a man-to-man and our motion offenses worked really well,” Cefalu said. “We’ve been trying to focus on stretching the possessions and making them pay off — and for the most part we did a great job of that.”
South Tahoe has handed Spring Creek two of its three losses in league play, and needed Saturday’s victory to stay in the postseason chase. The Vikings beat the Spartans 65-38 at home in the first round of league play Jan. 3, and have comfortably dispatched SCHS in both meetings.
Last Friday night, the Vikings fell behind Elko early and couldn’t recover in a 65-44 loss at Centennial Gymnasium. The Indians completed the sweep of South Tahoe with its 13th straight victory, and routed Dayton the following day to remain undefeated in league play.
“Elko is an extremely talented team with great chemistry,” Cefalu said. “Playing at home — it’s a great environment to play in — they came out and shot really well.”
South Tahoe trailed 25-11 after the first quarter, unable to slow Elko with its full-court press. The Vikings matched the Indians in the second frame after backing off the press, and trailed by 14 at the break.
After halftime, Elko used a big third quarter to pull away. The Indians opened up a 56-31 advantage headed into the fourth quarter — the Vikings outscored the hosts by four in the final frame.
“We did a lot of things really well, never gave up and battled hard,” Cefalu said.
Perez led South Tahoe with seven points in the loss, and was one of 10 Vikings to score. Merkley and forward Matt Herring each had six points while David and Waterman finished with five apiece.
For Elko, guard Nathan Klekas scored a game-high 22 points — including 17 guarded points in the first half — and was one of three players in double figures. Guard Eric Klekas added 15 points on five three-pointers, and forward Tim Meo finished with 10.
“We had a good game plan headed in, and we played really good defense against them — it’s really tough to stop a kid that’s covered and pulling up full speed jumpers,” Cefalu said of Nathan Klekas.
With four games left in the regular season, South Tahoe sits one game behind Fallon (10-11, 7-5) for the league’s last playoff spot — and is in the mix for the third and fourth seed. The Vikings and Greenwave meet in South Lake Tahoe on Feb. 14 to conclude the regular season.
“We hold our own destiny and we’re excited for the future,” Cefalu said.
As the intensity increases during South Tahoe’s playoff push, the Vikings don’t need to look farther than their own bench for inspiration in trying moments. Team manager and four-time cancer survivor Bailey Johnson has motivated the team all season long, and Cefalu said the Vikings are playing the last four games of the regular season for him.
“I know our kids look at our situation on the court and his situation in life, and they really use that as an inspiration,” Cefalu said. “He’s a wonderful young man that inspires our team — whenever somebody gets down, they look at Bailey and it picks them right back up.
“He’s going to be an inspiration for the boys to fight for him.”
South Tahoe returned to action Tuesday night at Dayton. The Vikings travel to play Fernley on Saturday — tipoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
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