Lakers clip Nighthawks, advance to league semis
It had been more than a decade since the North Tahoe boys’ basketball team last celebrated a postseason victory.
That drought ended Thursday night in Sparks as the Lakers knocked off higher-seeded Silver Stage behind great passing, timely shooting and tough defense to earn a 56-50 win in the opening round of the Class 2A Northern League tournament.
“Down the stretch everybody played good defense,” said senior Liam Bickett-Walsh. “We were hitting our free throws. We had a clutch 3 from Ricky (Martinez) that put us up, and really, we just showed a lot of heart in the last four minutes.”
Bickett-Walsh led the Lakers with 14 points and four assists, and was the catalyst to an offense that often had Silver Stage out of position and scrambling to recover as North Tahoe swung an extra pass for an easy basket.
“This year, especially, we have a totally unselfish team,” said Bickett-Walsh. “Everybody wants to set up their teammate just as much as they want to get their own shot. That really helps us.”
With the Lakers trailing 44-41 and less than five minutes on the clock, Bickett-Walsh made one of the biggest plays of the night, driving to the basket, and scoring while being hacked. The senior guard then coolly sank the ensuing free throw to even the score.
On the next offensive possession, Bickett-Walsh dished to an open Martinez, who splashed a 3 to give the Lakers the lead.
From there, North Tahoe was able to convert intentional fouls into points while playing stingy defense on the other end, which included a massive block by junior center John Zapata to halt a late Silver Stage run.
“John is coming into his own,” said Head Coach Devin Ginty on the Lakers center. “He’s been awesome.”
Silver Stage came into the game without the team’s 6-foot, 10-inch center, senior Kevin Kable, who was out with an injury. Zapata took full advantage of the Nighthawks’ lack of size down low, wreaking havoc in the paint all evening.
“Our assistant coach, Paul Joslin, he told me before I went on, ‘You’ve got to remember you’re the best big man out there tonight. You’ve got to assert yourself early,’” said Zapata.
Zapata finished the game with 13 points, four blocks, and 11 rebounds.
Junior Lucas Valois was big for North Tahoe as well, scoring 11 points on 3 of 6 shooting. Valois also had seven rebounds (four offensive), and two steals. Martinez and junior Cameron McAndrews each added six points fort the Lakers.
North Tahoe will now face No. 1 seed West Wendover at Sparks High School on Friday at 8 p.m.
West Wendover lost just one league game this season, and topped North Tahoe by double digits in both meetings.
“We have to feast on playing off each other, getting good passes, getting good looks, and defensively, we’ve got to play hard,” said Zapata on facing the Wolverines.