When Lakeside and St. Maries played back in December, we knew they were both as good as any team they might face should they make it back to their respective state tournaments.
It was early, very early, in the season.
The Lumberjacks were playing their third game, and the Knights, their second. Even then it was clear that enough pieces were left from their previous seasons for both to make state runs.
But after watching the rematch in Plummer last Friday, most of us quietly – or maybe not so – wishing for overtime and another five minutes of what was one of the most electrifying basketball games we’d ever seen, we learned something.
Both teams are better than we thought they were.
And they showed us in the most delightful of ways.
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The Lumberjacks knew they would have to make up for the loss of Greyson Sands, who scored a team-high 20 points in the Jacks’ first win over Lakeside. He hurt his ankle two days prior against Kellogg, enough so for it to be in a boot Friday night in Plummer.
If it weren’t for his pair of four-point plays in the first meeting, St. Maries may have been the team looking to settle a score in round two.
They were also down starter Randie Becktel, who was sidelined due to a shoulder injury suffered at Grangeville a week ago.
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But Lakeside wasn’t without its absences, either.
Seniors Kenyon Spotted Horse and J.J. Hall were both on the bench to start the game, and while Kenyon would check in a little more than halfway through the first quarter, fans did not get their chants of “we want J.J.” answered until the third quarter.
He waved those chants off, by the way, and made an immediate impact once entering the game. He hit his share of timely shots in the final two quarters.
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And then there was the unexpected exit of Lakeside’s Vander Brown, a guard who was averaging a point per minute before getting an elbow to the mouth and heading for the hospital soon after.
But don’t let the gruesome talk fool you. For the pieces both sides were missing, this game had everything.
Including a crowd.
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Compared to the hollowed-out gyms we have been used to, the Lakeside and St. Maries’ faithful made Ron Miller Court look like a can of sardines.
They weren’t quiet, either. The players on the floor made sure of that.
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On his first offensive possession of basketball in more than two weeks, Kenyon caught a pass at the 20-foot mark, hit a fading jump shot – and drew contact – completing a three-point play to put the Knights up by eight.
Anyone who was confused as to why the crowd at Ron Miller Court began to buzz when he checked in obviously has not been paying very good attention these past couple of weeks.
His team’s lead would grow to as much as nine during the game.
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But for all the times they could have, the Lumberjacks never faded away.
St. Maries could have bowed out in the first half, down six in the second before senior Eli Gibson hit a pair of three’s to tie the game heading into the midway break. His team trailed until both squads were in the 40s and the Jacks took their first lead, which was short lived.
They could have called it quits later on in the third quarter, when they would look up at the scoreboard during a timeout and see themselves down nine.
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And, who knows, maybe if one more point had been added to that, 10 would have felt insurmountable and kept them out of reach, and that late run wouldn’t have happened.
But it wasn’t enough to give Lakeside the buffer it needed to ensure revenge, and St. Maries stormed back in the fourth quarter for what felt like the umpteenth attempt.
And this time it stuck.
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With 15 seconds to play, Coleman Ross scored the game’s 121st point, which would be the last, and end the contest at 61-60.
Coleman led St. Maries in scoring in his usual way, quietly and without looking for too much attention.
He finished with 14 points for a Lumberjack team that had four scorers in double digits.
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Had the tournament dates not been changed, these two teams may have had the chance to cross paths at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa in roughly three weeks time.
The 1AD1 championship instead will be played on a Friday, and the 2As will finish out their bracket on Saturday, so the prospect of watching Lakeside leave the court as the Lumberjacks step on won’t happen this season.
But they both have enough firepower, and willpower, to earn their spots back in Nampa when the time comes.
And for all the things the game at Ron Miller Court Feb. 5 might have been, had any number of things been different, what it turned out to be was pretty spectacular.
Collin Scheel is the sports reporter at the Gazette Record.