Some rejections end in tears.
Jake Kohler’s certainly did on Friday night.
The Lakes senior guard came up with the biggest rejection of his career when he blocked a driving layup attempt by North Chicago in the final seconds of an overtime battle for first place in the North Suburban Conference Prairie Division.
The defensive stand sealed the Eagles’ frenetic 67-66 victory over visiting North Chicago in front of a packed gym in Lake Villa.
As fans from Lakes’ Royal Rush student section stormed the court, tears streamed down a joyful Kohler’s face.
The win was the first for Lakes over North Chicago, the Prairie Division’s perennial titan and a frequent vote-getter in the Class 3A state rankings, in three years.
Lakes and North Chicago are now tied in the Prairie Division standings, each with a 9-1 mark and their only loss to each other. Lakes improves to 18-6 overall while North Chicago, currently ranked No. 2 in the Class 3A poll, drops to 22-2.
“This is very emotional, very emotional,” Kohler said. “We’ve been playing this team for three years up on the varsity and it’s just been so long since we’ve beaten them. It feels so good. It’s the greatest feeling in my life right now.
“I saw them driving to the basket there at the end and they did it last year on us. That’s how they beat us in double overtime last year, with a drive to the basket. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I just went up, hoped that they didn’t call a foul on me, thank God, and I just got the ball and got the rebound too and then I just threw the ball up in the air. What a great game.”
After the first half, when Lakes built up leads as big as 11 points (which was the margin at halftime), the game was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way.
North Chicago quickly cut its deficit in the third quarter, scoring the first seven points in just one minute. The Warhawks eventually tied the game at 38-38 with about three minutes remaining in the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, there were five lead changes and four ties. Senior guard Justin Bergeron came up with a huge basket down the stretch for Lakes and Troy Swindle’s drive to the basket tied the game at 58-58 with seven seconds left and ultimately forced overtime.
Bergeron then scored 5 of Lakes’ 9 points in the overtime by taking control of the paint. His strong post moves and offensive rebounds were too much for North Chicago to handle.
“It was a total team effort. I was just there,” said Bergeron, who scored a team-high 20 points and was one of three Lakes players in double-figures. “My teammates were the ones driving and kicking. I was just there finishing what they gave to me. It was all on my teammates.
“We love playing this team. It’s always the best game of the year for us. They’re physical. And that’s what we love. It’s always a great basketball game. This was a game we really wanted.”
The Eagles also got 14 points from senior guard Direll Clark while Kohler finished with 13 points.
“When you’re trying to break through something, it’s never easy,” Lakes coach Chris Snyder said. “To see us fight through with everyone working together was so good to see.”
North Chicago junior guard JayQuan McCloud led all scorers with a game-high 24 points. Teammate Kurt Hall added 21 points.
The Warhawks were without starting junior point guard JaVairius Amos-Mays as well as three of their top reserves. They were out due to team rules violations and are suspended for the next three to four games.
“I was proud of my kids because I had to bring in seven kids that had never even practiced with us before,” North Chicago coach Gerald Coleman said. “For them to step in blind, I thought they did pretty well.
“It would have been nice to have everyone here, but this was still a great game. This is what high school basketball is all about. There are great fans here and we love coming here because of that. When North Chicago and Lakes play, it’s going to be a battle.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.