Friday marked a historic night for the South Tahoe boys basketball program.
The Vikings outlasted perennial Division I-A North power Lowry, 44-41, in a regional semifinal at North Valleys High School, clinching their first state tournament berth in 15 years.
South Tahoe’s senior post player Joe Albrecht hit a pair of foul shots with 28 seconds remaining in the game to give the Vikings a 42-41 lead. That set the stage for a Lowry game-winner but the Vikings (14-14) made a last defensive stand, pulling down a rebound with a second to go.
Denzel Perez hit two more free throws for South Tahoe with less than a second left, sealing the three-point playoff win for the Vikings.
“I think our defense was the difference,” South Tahoe coach Joby Cefalu said. “Our composure on offense was big, too. We took care of the ball and didn’t turn it over. We’ve played a lot of close games all year, including winning one in double-overtime and another in overtime recently just to get here. Those games are the best practice you can get.”
The regional tournament game was tight from start to finish, with the margin within single-digits throughout. South Tahoe led 12-8 after the first quarter, but managed just two second-quarter points. Lowry got a 3-pointer from Omar Guerrero as the horn sounded at halftime and the Buckaroos took a 17-16 lead into the break.
A driving layup by South Tahoe’s Tommy Cefalu put the Vikings on top, at 25-22, midway through the third, but Lowry answered with a modest 6-0 spurt and forged ahead 28-25 with 30 seconds left in the period. A South Tahoe 3-pointer and two Lowry free throws gave the Buckaroos a 30-28 lead with a quarter left to play.
Neither team got any separation in the fourth quarter, either. A three-point play by Lowry’s Jed Teichert gave the Buckaroos a four-point edge, 37-33, but it was their largest lead of the second half. South Tahoe outscored Lowry 11-4 in the final five minutes.
Blake Blocker hit a 3-point shot for South Tahoe with 2:55 left to put the Vikings ahead, 40-39, but Lowry answered with a bucket for a 41-40 lead a minute later. It was the Bucks’ last lead of the night.
The narrow victory puts South Tahoe into Saturday’s regional final against top-seeded Elko at 2 p.m. at NVHS. It also assures South Tahoe of its first state tournament since 2001, when it was still a member of the NIAA’s large-school ranks. The Vikings had even failed to qualify for state play since moving into the I-A classification in the 2010-11 season.
“I took over this program three years ago and I wanted to help bring South Tahoe basketball back,” said Cefalu, a 1986 STHS graduate. “I’m really proud of our guys.”
Blocker paced the Vikings with 17 points. Guerrero finished with 19 for Lowry to lead all scorers.
Lowry’s season ended at 18-9.
“It’s the time of the year when you have to play good defense, play smart and get a little lucky,” veteran Lowry coach Chad Peters said. “I thought we did the first two, but tonight we didn’t get lucky. We’ve won a lot of games in the regular season and in the playoffs where we’ve been fortunate enough to be on the other side, but not tonight.”
ELKO 67, FERNLEY 49: Elko will get a chance to defend its I-A North title thanks to a big win over Fernley in Friday’s other regional semifinal.
After trailing 16-11 midway through the second quarter, Elko (23-3) responded with a 13-2 spurt to conclude the half and held a 24-18 lead after two periods. The Indians, who have won four straight regional titles, stayed hot in the third quarter, outscoring the Vaqueros, 24-11. That gave Elko a 48-29 lead. Fernley (14-12) got no closer than 13 in the final period.
“Our defense picked up,” Elko coach Chris Klekas said. “We started paying a little more attention to the ball. We got better pressure and we started to hit some shots.”
Eric Klekas scored 21 points to lead Elko. Cole Smith chipped in 15 and Kyrin Allen had 11 for the Indians. Fernley’s Zach Burns led all scorers with 24 points.