Four days after blowing a big second-half lead in a loss to Lakewood Park, the Prairie Heights Panthers turned the tables on county rival Lakeland Saturday night in LaGrange.
Down 35-25 late in the third period after Lakeland junior Brant Betts buried a triple from the left wing, coach Brett Eltzroth’s Panthers clawed and scratched their way over the final 10 minutes to pull out a 43-42 triumph over the Lakers.
Sophomore Jacob Heller, bottled up by junior Marco Olivares and the rest of the Lakeland defense in the first half, ignited the rally with a pair of hoops to end the third frame. Midway through the fourth stanza, Heller canned two more buckets to narrow the difference to three (40-37).
Junior Zach Shepard then cut the margin to a single point when he converted a perfectly-placed lob pass by Heller into a bucket. After trading turnovers with the Lakers over the next two minutes, Heller finally gave Heights the lead (41-40) with a power layup.
Lakeland junior Chandler Mynhier put his club back on top (42-41) 14 seconds later when he swished a pair of free throws. Heller responded by drawing a foul on the ensuing Panther possession and canning the resulting charity tosses to earn Heights a 43-42 lead with 41 seconds to play.
The Lakers milked most of the final seconds off the clock before calling time out with 3.9 ticks left. Coach Ryan Yoder drew up an inbounds play which called for Betts to lob a pass near the basket to senior Spencer Mortola. It was a play that had worked several times for the Lakers during the contest.
“We practice that play all the time and felt confident it would work,” stated Yoder after the game.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Betts’ pass came too close to the rim, glancing off the iron before Mortola could make a play on it. Shepard grabbed the loose ball and successfully dribbled out the remaining time.
“They beat us on the play a couple of times earlier and we had a suspicion they might try it again in that situation,” said Eltzroth. “This is a great win for us. We’re starting to compete on defense, which is what you need to do as a team at this time of year.”
Heller, who was held scoreless in the first half, finished with a game-high 22 points. “We spread out the offense a little more in the second half to create better passing angles inside to Jacob,” explained Eltzroth. “We dribbled too much in the first half.”
Mortola led the Lakers with 16 points, followed by Mynhier with 10. “Our offense is struggling and its all due to fundamentals and turnovers,” said Yoder. “We scored 18 of our 42 points in the third period and that’s because we were able to get out on the break.”
Saturday’s result improved Prairie Heights to 5-4 in the NECC and to 10-11 overall. Lakeland dropped to marks of 4-6 and 6-13.
Prairie Heights 43
Scoring by quarters
PH 7 10 12 14 -43
LL 11 6 18 7 -42
Joey Barry 0, 0-0, 0; Kyler West 1, 0-0, 3; Cassten Everidge 0, 0-0, 0; Jackie Owens 0, 0-0, 0; Landon Wohlers 2, 0-0, 4; Jacob Heller 10, 2-2, 22; Corey Johnson 0, 0-0, 0; Dylan Stayner 2, 0-0, 4; Zach Shepard 3, 2-2, 8; Bobby Blum 1, 0-0, 2; Totals 19, 4-4, 43
Three-point field goals 1 (West 1)
Daemyn Priestley 2, 0-0, 4; Eric Herber 0, 0-0, 0; Mitch Herber 1, 0-0, 2; Todd Knote 0, 0-0, 0; Dustin Cunningham 0, 0-0, 0; Marco Olivares 2, 0-0, 4; Spencer Mortola 6, 3-4, 16; Joseph Trost 0, 0-0, 0; Chandler Mynhier 3, 4-4, 10; Brant Betts 2, 0-0, 6; Totals 16, 7-8, 42
Three-point field goals 3 (Betts 2, Mortola 1)