Trying to find their first wins of the season, the Lakeland boys’ basketball team played two games in two days.
The Thunderbirds defeated Wausau West in their home opener 56-51.
Then, they traveled to Hayward where they won 59-57.
The first half was low-scoring as both teams never got too far ahead of the other. Michael Ouimette scored early - he made four of Lakeland’s first five baskets.
Both teams were struggling offensively as Lakeland took a timeout with eight minutes to go in the first half. The score was 11-11.
Late in the first half, the Thunderbirds were in the bonus and they took advantage of it.
Nolan St. Germaine got fouled and made both of his free throws. Luke Larsen did the same thing, making both of his free throws.
Ouimette also got fouled and made both of his free throws. The Thunderbirds led 21-16 with three minutes to go.
That’s when Wausau West went on a 9-2 run to end the first half. Wausau West led 25-23 at the half.
“I love not playing our best and still winning,”?explained coach Rich Fortier. “(You) end up with 16 or 17 wins instead of 13 or 14, 11 or 12.”
To start the second half, the Thunderbirds saw some more explosiveness from their offense. Ouimette, St. Germaine and Collin Quade used the fast break to their advantage and made some shots. Lakeland led 41-35.
That prompted Wausau West to call a timeout with eight and a half minutes to go. That timeout worked. They went on a 7-0 run and took a 42-41 lead.
Now Lakeland took a timeout. That worked when Alex Fortier scored a bucket to stop the run. Then Jacob Borak got fouled and made both of his free throws.
Still down by two points. St. Germaine went coast-to-coast for a layup and a tie game at 47-47.
Then it came down to free throws. The Thunderbirds were in the double bonus and used it to their advantage.
The Thunderbirds final nine points came on free throws. Those free throws came from Ouimette, Quade and Alex Fortier. Together they combined to make nine of ten free throws.
“We hit some free throws late to ice it. We really locked it down and we made free throws at the end of the game,” coach Fortier said.
The defining stop came when the Thunderbirds forced Wausau West to travel with 13.7 seconds left in a three-point game.
Right off the bat it looked to be Lakeland’s night. Quade and Alex Fortier both hit 3-pointers and Cody Wolfe added in two.
Ouimette found his way to the basket twice and Lakeland led 12-7.
But just like that, Hayward struck for two 3-pointers and led 13-12. They kept the pressure on the Thunderbirds as the Hurricanes led 29-20 with three minutes to go in the half.
“I probably put those five subs out there without enough prep,”?coach Fortier said. “We put those guys in harm’s way.”
One way to get back in a game is the three-point shot. Alex Fortier hit two 3-point shots immediately after Lakeland took a timeout.
The Hurricanes still led 33-28 at the half.
The second half saw two good teams go at it, both grinding out points.
First, Ouimette got going and scored seven straight points, including three baskets. One of those baskets came off a miss by St. Germaine. The Hurricanes still led 40-35.
St. Germaine continued his knack to make plays. He scored a basket off the dribble, then made a steal and an assist to set up another score. The game was now tied at 44-44.
Then, Lakeland went on a scoring run that started with their defense.
That defense forced numerous stops that led to baskets on the other end. Wolfe and Alex Fortier started with baskets.
“For just a little flurry there we were hitting baskets,” coach Fortier said.
Then Quade had a fast break bucket courtesy of a St. Germaine pass. St. Germaine then made a two. All of a sudden, the Thunderbirds led 53-46 and Hayward called a timeout.
“It went from us down one to up seven in a heartbeat,”?coach Fortier said.
Lakeland looked like they would wrap things up with three minutes to go and a nine point lead. But back came the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes went on a 9-1 run thanks to three made 3-pointers. The score was 58-57 Lakeland.
It didn’t help that the Thunderbirds were missing late game free throws, something they did successfully against Wausau West.
“I would hang my hat on Collin and Alex shooting free throws,”?coach Fortier said.
And much like Thursday, the Hurricanes had a chance to tie or take the lead down two with 10.7 seconds. With a scramble for the ball, the Hurricanes ended up traveling.
Lakeland missed two more free throws, but there wasn’t enough time for Hayward to make a half-court heave. Lakeland survived and won two of the three games over the week.
“We got through the week two out of three which is what we were hoping,” coach Fortier said.
The Thunderbirds traveled to D.C. Everest Monday for a non-conference matchup. Coverage of that will be in the Dec. 13th edition of The Times
Then, the Thunderbirds next game comes Friday, Dec. 13 at home against Antigo starting at 7:15 p.m. It will be the Thunderbirds’ conference opener.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]