It's No. 1 vs. No. 2 in Section 1AA boys basketball championship
The top two seeds in the Section 1AA boys basketball playoffs, Lake City (26-1) and Plainview-Elgin-Millville (25-4), will square off in the section championship game at 8 p.m. Thursday.
ROCHESTER — Don’t expect Lake City to be overconfident when the Tigers face Plainview-Elgin-Millville in the Section 1AA boys basketball championship game on Thursday.
Lake City, ranked second in the state in Class AA, enters the game 26-1. The Tigers, the No. 1 seed in the section, opened the season with a 76-57 win over P-E-M, but that will not give them a false sense of security.
“It was a long, long time ago,” Lake City coach Greg Berge said. “They've been an excellent basketball team all year and they’ve been a top-ranked team in the state.”
The second-seeded Bulldogs have lost just three times since the opener. They are 25-4, just out of the top 10 rankings in the state and rated No. 15 in QRF.
The two teams square off with a state berth on the line at 8 p.m. Thursday at Mayo Civic Arena in what could be an epic showdown.
“They have two talented players and they have a lot of pieces around them that really complement those two kids,” Berge said. “They play great defense and they’re going to be a big challenge.”
Lake City, ranked fourth in the state in the QRF rankings, has also been a handful for teams the entire season. The Tigers have won 10 consecutive games; their lone loss was to Stewartville, which is playing in the Section 1AAA title game.
“Defensively we’re going to have our hands full,” P-E-M coach Jason Herber said. “But we’re a defense-first team and have relied on our defense all year. We have to try to slow them down because they have four guys who can light you up in a minute.”
Four Tigers average in double figures in scoring: Junior guard Hunter Lorenson (17.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists per game), 6-foot-9 senior guard/forward Ryan Heise (16.7 ppg. 6.7 rpg, 2.3 blocks), 6-4 junior Keegan Ryan (12.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.5 bpg) and 6-3 junior guard Jaden Shones (10.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg).
“We have to contain their scorers,” Berge said. “And offensively we just have to take good shots, play our game and compete each and every possession.”
Aeron Stevens, a 6-foot-7 senior, is a scoring force all over the court for P-E-M. Berge said Stevens is also an excellent passer, which sets up his other teammates.
Lake City has plenty of size in the lanky Heise, Ryan and 6-5 junior Rylee Fick. Berge said being able to defend at a high level will be the key for the Tigers.
Lake City’s ability to force turnovers was a big factor in the first meeting with P-E-M.
“I think the key is just taking care of the ball because they feast on you if you make mistakes,” Herber said.
Stevens averages 23.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.9 blocks per game.
“We just have to get Aeron the ball in other opportunities,” Herber said. “But the good thing about Aeron is he can score from anywhere on the floor.”
More good news for P-E-M is standout 6-3 senior guard Kaiden Peters has recovered nicely from an ankle injury. He was limited in the first two section tournament rounds, but played about 30 minutes in a semifinal victory against Caledonia and excelled on defense.
“He’s frustrated because his drive and shot weren’t quite there, but he did so much more for us,” Herber said. “And now he’s got five more days (to recover).”
With reduced play in the section playoffs, Peters season averaged dipped to just fewer than 20 points per game. He also averages 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
Herber said when Peters was limited other players got a chance to see more action and step up. “In the long run I think it made us a better team,” the coach said.
Lake City’s last state berth was in 2019 when it placed third in Class AA.
“Big-time players step up in big-time games,” Berge said, “but oftentimes it’s those other guys that step up and really make winning basketball plays. That’s really what it comes down to, play the game the right way, play with poise, play with confidence and lay it all on the line.”
P-E-M’s last state berth was in 2012 when the Bulldogs won the Class AA state championship. They lost in the section title game a year ago in triple overtime to Caledonia.
“I do believe the winner of our game has a chance to do some damage up there (at state),” Herber said. “I think we’re two of the better teams.”