Anything can happen in the playoffs and Friday night's regional between the Lakeland Union High School and Medford boys' basketball teams proved it.
In a game that had a little bit of everything – including a frantic comeback that saw a last second shot that hung on the rim before falling off – Medford held on to earn a 58-56 win and advance to the second round.
The Raiders did not escape without heartbreak of their own as leading scorer John Keefe went down with an apparent leg injury after the final buzzer sounded when he got caught up in a group that included Lakeland players in front of the Medford bench.
Keefe was down for several minutes being attended to by training staff before being helped off the floor by his teammates.
The injury was an anti-climactic conclusion to a game that went down to the wire after Lakeland erased a double-digit deficit with fewer than two minutes to play.
The comeback actually started earlier as the Thunderbirds used their fouls to put Medford on the line at the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter. The strategy worked as the Raiders struggled from the line, missing seven straight free throws at one point.
With Lakeland down double-digits, they took advantage as Matt Hartzheim hit three straight three-point baskets to cut the lead to 50-41.
Dewey Goff would pull Lakeland even closer as he hit a three-point basket with 1:02 left. Hartzheim followed with a fourth three-pointer and the Medford lead was cut to 55-53 with 36 seconds to play.
After Medford hit a pair of free throws to go up four, Tom Bruckner pulled Lakeland to within two points again as he scored a basket with eight seconds to play. Medford was sent to the line once more where they made one-of-two free throws on their ensuing possession.
Lakeland inbounded the ball and Dylan Lerdal drove the length of the floor and took a tough shot in the paint. The ball hung on the rim for what seemed an eternity, before rolling off. The ball was batted around and Keefe came away with it to seal the win for Medford.
Early on this game showed little indication that it would end as it did. Lakeland came out and controlled the game on both ends in the first quarter, taking an 11-5 lead after the first frame.
But Medford adjusted in the second, utilizing ball penetration and finding the open man. Lakeland rallied and at halftime took a 22-20 lead.
In the third, the Raiders came out hot as they began hitting shots from the three-point arc. Medford opened the half on a 7-0 run and built their lead to 38-29 with one quarter to play.
In the fourth, Medford continued to pull away with a double-digit lead. But Lakeland did not fold and with four minutes left began their comeback.
Hartzheim led Lakeland in scoring with 14 points, including the 12 in the fourth quarter to spark the T-Birds' comeback. Lerdal added 12 points, while Bryon Andrews and Tom Bruckner tallied 10 points each.
For more on this game, including comments from coach Rich Fortier, see the Tuesday print edition of The Lakeland Times.
Bryan Rose may be reached at email@example.com.