A 13-point run in the first quarter had Lake Park feeling good about its start, but coach Josh Virostko was more concerned about the Lancers' finish.
Turns out the Lancers had a pretty good finish too.
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Lake Park withstood a Niles West comeback to grab a 52-50 victory Wednesday night at the Class 4A Addison Trail regional semifinals.
"The biggest thing for us was the fourth quarter when we lost the lead," Virostko said. "Maybe January, even December we would have folded a little bit. Tonight we stayed with it."
The Lancers (13-14) led by 5 entering the fourth quarter, but the Wolves (12-15) overcame that quickly. The teams traded the lead six times in the final eight minutes before Dominique Spencer converted a three-point play with 56.9 seconds to go to give the Lancers the lead for good at 49-48.
"It was insane," Lancers senior Matt Drufke said of the final minutes. "We knew they were going to come out and do what they were doing the whole game, full denial. We really just bunkered down. It's like we say in a lot of our practices, it's all or nothing. We just buckled down, got some defensive stops and were able to make most of our free throws."
With 11.1 seconds left Drufke made a pair of free throws, giving Lake Park a lead that Niles West finally couldn't overcome. The Lancers finished 9 of 10 at the free-throw line.
"I guess that's what all the practice in the gym does," Drufke said. "You try to ignore and forget about the moment and shoot them like it was practice free throws."
"When they make a run you can't fold," Virostko added. "You've got to fight and go make a run yourself. We didn't fold. Very easily we could have said, hey, season's over. But our kids come down, make a couple of plays and next thing you know we have the lead. We kind of stole a win there."
It helped that Lake Park rebounded well.
"The big difference in the game is they got a lot of putback baskets," Niles West coach Bob Williams said. "(Spencer) is a monster on the boards and ends up with 18 points. How many of those baskets are second-chance points? That killed us."
Spencer added 10 rebounds, and Kyle Phelan scored 13 points.
"No doubt it was nice," Drufke said. "I think that was our first regional win in the last three years, and that means a lot."
Tony Pierce led Niles West with 21 points off the bench, 19 in the second half. The Wolves got only 15 points from their starters.
No. 9 Lake Park advanced to play the sectional's top seed, Glenbrook North, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Addison Trail.
"They're going to be a challenge, so we'll see," Virostko said. "It's all icing on the cake now. Now you just go out and play loose and get after it."