Last season, Jerry Keifer’s Evergreen Vikings got big-time performances from different players at critical times during a 25-1 jaunt to an NWOAL title and the Division III Elite 8.
After five of those key components graduated, Keifer had a major reloading project on his hands; however, even though the characters changed the results were the same in the Vikes’ opening weekend.
Evergreen used a stellar defensive effort in the fourth quarter to upset one of the league pre-season favorites in Swanton, 39-36 Friday. Then the following night, saddled with deep foul problems, Evergreen got solid performances off the bench to knock a pair of twin towers and Otsego 52-43.
Swanton came in off an opening-game win over Lake, but Eli Keifer’s long triple broke a 4-4 deadlock to give the Vikings the lead with 3:38 left in the first.
Josh Vance’s baseline jumper sliced the advantage to 9-8 at the quarter, and in the second Andrew Thornton went to work to put the Bulldogs on top.
The talented 6’4” senior dropped a three-ball to tie the game, then hit another during a seven-point second quarter.
Vance’s basket at the buzzer gave Swanton a 19-17 halftime lead.
Ethan Loeffler scored on a fastbreak putback that turned into an and-one to regain a one-point Evergreen lead opening the third. But, Vance’s contested jumper in the key, Thornton’s score off the block and Cole Mitchey’s three-point play gave Swanton their biggest lead at 26-22 and had Evergreen on the ropes at the 3:20 mark of the third.
At that point the Vikes’ cheetah-quick point guard Evan Lumbrezer brought Evergreen back.
The 6’1” junior scored a three-point play going to the rim then knocked in a stop-and-go move to the hoop to put Evergreen up 27-26.
A pair of Vance free throws and Trent Weigel’s basket with 48 seconds left pushed Swanton back up 30-27 heading into the fourth but again it was Lumbrezer bringing Evergreen back.
First he scored off a steal 50 seconds into the last quarter then fed Loeffler rolling to the rim, giving Evergreen a 31-30 lead.
Vance’s foul line jumper put the Bulldogs up with 5:14 left but Lumbrezer found RJ Shunck on the back end of a fastbreak 44 seconds later to give Evergreen the lead for good.
Shunck made the play of the night when he rebounded a missed free throw for a stickback and a 35-32 lead with 4:30 left.
“That was huge because it put us up three at the time,” coach Keifer said. “That gave us the advantage to when we got the ball back we could do what we do and take some time off.”
Mitchey’s putback with 2:35 left cut the lead to one but Evan Lumbrezer dropped a dime to Austin Lumbrezer for a layup out of the spread, then Austin Lumbrezer canned both ends of a one-and-bonus to give the Vikings a five-point lead with under a minute left.
“Once we took the lead in the fourth we had to grow up really quick,” expressed Keifer about his young team. “We had three guys on the floor who had never played in a varsity game like this. To hold a team like Swanton, who is really, really good, like that is really special.”
Evergreen held Swanton to six fourth quarter points — two of those buckets in offensive rebounds.
“We tried about everything the last two weeks, trying to find something we could play effeciently,” explained Keifer. “We looked at a number of different things and weren’t very good an any of them, but tonight we found something that we communicated very well with and we were really good with. There were a couple of possessions we had some miscommunication and gave up a three but for the most part especially in the second half and fourth and got a couple turnovers we capitalilzed on at the other end.”
Evergreen shot 60 percent in the second half and 53 percent for the game at 16-30. The Bulldogs were 15-39 for the game.
The Vikings were guilty of 12 turnovers to just eight for Swanton. Evan Lumbrezer led the Vikings with 15 points, and added nine rebounds and five assists.
Vance had 14 for Swanton (1-1) and Thornton had 11.
Vikes hold off Knights
Saturday, the Vikings had to handle some heavy foul problems in the first half, along with the 6’6” Otsego duo of Ryan Dennis and Joey Dzierwa.
With Loeffler saddled with three first half fouls and Lumbrezer with two more, the Vikings got solid minutes off the bench from Lane Schoendorf, Brock Hudik and Jake Fuller.
Dennis and Dzierwa scored every Otsego point in the first half to take a 22-19 lead; however, Schoendorf’s three-pointer and Fuller’s split at the line with 32 seconds left helped keep Evergreen close after the Knights took a five point lead.
In the third though, Evergreen exploded in the first four minutes on a 12-2 run to regain the lead and not look back.
Loeffler scored inside over Dennis, Keifer dropped a long-range bomb from way outside the arc, Austin Lumbrezer scored on a feed from Evan Lumbrezer, Shunck nailed a triple from the right wing and Loeffler finished the burst with a putback for a 31-24 lead.
With Evergreen up 41-36 at the 2:51 mark of the fourth, Hudik helped put the game to rest.
The junior guard canned 3-4 from the line on a one-and-bonus, then a technical foul on Otsego’s Chase Helberg, then on the ensuing possession Evan Lumbrezer’s three-point play on the out-of-bounds play put the Vikes up 46-35.
Again Evergreen shot well in the second half going 11-17 for 65 percent.
The Vikings were very balanced as Evan Lumbrezer had 12 points, Loeffler 11 and Shunck 10 — offsetting Dennis’ 22 and Dzierwa’s 14.
However, the difference was the bench trio of Schoendorf, Fuller and Hudik who accounted for seven points and six rebounds.
Reach Joe Blystone at [email protected]