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Lakers nab first win, edge rival MA

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

MA's Riley Swedberg drives to the basket past I-L's Chase Dickinson during the Lakers' 53-51 victory last week in Meredith. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
January 20, 2014
MEREDITH Mike Rathgeber knows his team was just an inch or two away from overtime last week.

With visiting Moultonborough Academy trailing by two points with the ball in the final seconds of the Panthers' first of two meetings with rival Inter-Lakes High School, junior Riley Swedberg drove the length of the floor and put up a runner in the lane that seemed destined to force overtime. But the ball rolled in and out of the hoop, and the host Lakers survived a physical contest to pick up their first win of the year, 53-51, on Jan. 13.

"Riley's shot was in the cylinder," said Rathgeber, the I-L head coach, of MA's last look. "By all that's holy, we should still be playing right now."

MA head coach Matt Swedberg chose not to call a timeout after the Panthers took over possession down by two points with just 5.2 seconds remaining. Riley Swedberg beat a pair of I-L defenders and a full court press to get into position for the game-tying look.

"I hate to call timeout in that situation because I don't like the defense to set up," said coach Swedberg. "We've been looking for guys to be able to go north/south with the basketball and Riley did a good job maintaining control. The ball just didn't drop."

Riley Swedberg's two free throws with 1:21 left in regulation gave MA a 51-50 lead, and the Panthers regained possession in the final minute looking to put things away. But the Lakers defense pressured the ball, and Dillon Dow knocked the ball away. A fortuitous bounce off referee Bob Nelson enabled I-L to gain control, and Erik Boquist took off down the court for the go-ahead layup with 48 seconds remaining and a 52-51 lead.

Trevor Hentz made a free throw with 14.9 seconds left to put the hosts up 53-51, and while he missed the second of his two free throws, Chase Dickinson stole the ball from an MA player and he was fouled with 7.7 seconds to play. While the Lakers couldn't capitalize at the charity stripe, they did manage to survive Swedberg's last second attempt and pick up their first win of the season.

"I feel good. It's our first win but we sure tried hard to give it away at the end," said Rathgeber. "We made some mental mistakes that we got away with. But it was a good, hard game against a team that's in the exact same situation that we are. We just have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot."

The Panthers committed 22 turnovers on the night, 13 of them coming in a first half where they trailed 22-17 at intermission. But it was the late turnovers down the stretch that really haunted MA.

"Those late turnovers are the ones you remember, no question," said Swedberg. "But I told the guys you can't dwell on this. This was a good game for us. Yeah, we lost, but hopefully we'll learn from it. We didn't have these experiences last year, an up and down physical game. When we get to the point of slowing down our brains and we're able to execute, then I think we'll really turn it around."

MA led 37-33 entering the fourth quarter after outscoring the Lakers, 20-11, in the third. A banked in three-pointer from Malik Carter with 2:20 left put I-L up 47-44 just seconds after Tristan Price had tied the game with a three of his own. A pair of Riley Swedberg freebies cut the lead to one point, though Kier Vicente delivered a dagger 3 from the corner with 1:50 left for a 50-46 advantage.

With big plays coming fast and furious, MA forward Aaron Davis powered to the basket and was fouled while sinking a shot. He added the free throw with 1:33 left to cut the lead to 50-49, and Swedberg's pair from the line on the next trip down put the visitors up 51-50.

"This is Duke/Carolina," joked Rathgeber of the rivalry between the two schools. "They've got the battle for Tobacco Road, we've got Route 25. But seriously I wish every game was like this. It's a great environment for high school basketball."

The gymnasium at I-L was rocking all night, with fans in the Laker student section painted in blue and white. The Panthers had a loud student section of their own, with the rematch at MA scheduled for after deadline this past Tuesday night. Two games in eight days against the neighboring foes is perfect for the midseason grind.

"It's put up or shut up time for us," said Rathgeber. "The middle of the schedule is when we need to win and get into the tournament. The guys know that. We don't want it to come down to the stretch this year, our last four games are tough."

It was a physical game, with both teams reaching the bonus early in both halves. The first quarter was particularly tough, with whistles on nearly every trip down the floor.

"We held our own against their physical nature," said Swedberg of his team. "We aren't as physical as them style-wise but it's good to play games like this."

Vicente led the Lakers with 15 points in the night, while Dickinson (11 points), Boquist (nine points), Dow (eight points) and Malik Carter (six) also chipped in offensively.

For the Panthers, Swedberg led all scorers with 17 points, while Price (13 points) and John McClay (10) also finished in double figures. McClay hit three 3's in the third quarter to help MA take a lead. Andrew Porusta added six points in a solid outing for the visitors.

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