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July 8, 2012The Lake Conference title was basically on the line Friday night in Lakeville as first place Eden Prairie (13-2 in conference play) visited second place Lakeville North (12-5 in the conference). The Eagles, on their home court won the first meeting and now could all but wrap up the conference title with a win on the road.
The Panthers from North were able to get out to an early lead with some strong rebounding and a quick start offensively by Aaron Gallegos and CJ Johnson. Both guards got it going from the outside and staked the home team to a 17-10 lead. They were looking to run from the start, but the Eagle defense prevented any transition baskets. The Panthers were patient early and were able to get good shots early. EP was getting some good looks as well, but were having trouble finding the range.
Chris Orgas while not scoring much early was doing a great job on the glass and defending the Eagle big men Brett Ervin and Ethan Wragge who half way the first half only had five points between them.
Wragge found the range from the outside to pull the Eagles close, but a string of bad fouls, including a technical threatened to put EP back in a hole. The Eagles regained their composure, but North still held a six point lead.
What was beginning to look like it was going to get a little sloppy and personal between a few of the players, got back under control late in the half. With a four point lead with two minutes and change to go, North went into a four corners offense to run clock. They missed the first attempt at a bucket, but senior captain Tyler Swanson, who quietly led the Panthers in scoring in the first half with seven, grabbed an offensive rebound giving his team another chance to run clock and score. Swanson, along with Orgas played great interior defense and came up with a number of offensive rebounds to control the inside.
Although North again failed to score, they took a 26-22 lead into the locker room.
When Orgas picked up his third foul very early in the second half it looked like EP was going to get Wragge going on the inside. In some ways they did, but it was North's big men who really stepped up in Orgas absence. Swanson was solid all night, but picked it up early in the second half. Bryant McCuddin found some space inside to bump the lead to double digits.
Wragge and the outside shooting of Timmy Miller got the Eagles back into the game, but when Orgas came back into the game he helped slow down EP's inside game. It also freed Swanson up to become even more effective. Up to this point, he was the most consistent player on the floor, but with his fellow big man back by his side, he was freed up to contribute in a variety of ways. He scored in the half court and on the break, rebounded the ball and played solid defense, including a key blocked shot.
EP made another push behind Wragge and Miller and cut the lead to six. A pair of big steals got EP all the way back to within one point with less than six minutes to go. With North suddenly struggling to find offense, they went back to the captain Swanson who got to the free throw line and sank two right out of a timeout. EP would not be held back however. The Eagles finally started to work from the inside out, instead of the other way around for most of the first half. Ervin took advantage of the new commitment to the paint and came to life late in the game to tie the game at 50 with under five to go.
Both teams struggled to find any consistent offense as turnovers and missed free throws kept the game tied. Wragge finally broke the drought with a couple of free throws to give EP its first lead since very early in the contest. EP continued to play more consistency and with two minutes to go still had that two point lead and the ball.
A three by Wragge gave EP what looked like a lead they wouldn't give back, but a clutch three by McCuddin with less than 30 seconds left tied the game.
After a time out Mitch Hallstrom grabbed an offensive rebound for EP and stuck the put back with two seconds to go. Swanson caught a perfect full court pass from Gallegos, but was unable to hit an off balance three at the buzzer giving the Eagles a thrilling come from behind win that put a John Sena hammer lock on the conference lead. Anyone who has seen an EP game this year knows what I mean.
Swanson with 13 points and a great all-around game, and the rest of the Panthers just couldn't contend with Ervin (12 points, nearly all in the last five minutes) and Wragge, who's inside and outside game led all scorers with 22, down the stretch.
This was just a great emotional high school basketball game that had it all and showed why the Eden Prairie Eagles are the class of the Lake Conference. They have the best inside one two punch in the conference and tonight, down the stretch were too much for the Panthers.