Youngsters help Cards stay in NEA title hunt
Medical Lake’s Steven Velasquez drives to the hoop in the waning minutes of Saturday’s Northeast A League basketball game against Lakeside. Velasquez was fouled and hit of crucial free throw that helped the Cardinals score a rugged 40-36 victory.
Medical Lake’s youngsters on the roster were certainly expected to get a baptism of fire this season.
They were likely not expecting, however, to have to hold down the fort as they did last Saturday in the Cardinals’ 40-36 win over Lakeside. The victory, when coupled with a 62-36 triumph at Newport last Tuesday, left Medical Lake (5-0 NEA, 8-4 overall) a game up on Chewelah (4-0, 8-3) who was in town for a game this past Tuesday. It was the Cardinals’ only game of the week as their portion of the NEA scheduled reached the halfway point.
“They kind of put it together and got us through that last three minutes,” Brown said of the likes of Dominick Harvey-Mitchell and Jaelon Stith – both freshmen – along with sophomore Zach Elder and junior Steven Velasquez, just back after a foot injury.
“For us it takes everybody we have, every game,” Brown said.
That group played a crucial part after seniors Adam Paulson, Austin Garza and Seth Hansen all fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Medical Lake led 10-6 after the first and 17-16 at the half.
The Eagles took their only lead of the third 24-23 on Grant Perkins’ 3-pointer from the right side with 1:30 to play in the period. But Elder answered with a 3 of his own with 1:18 remaining in the quarter.
Lakeside turned the ball over with 40 seconds left in the period and a Velasquez runner from the right side put the Cardinals up 28-24 as the third ended.
Adam Paulson would earn his fourth foul with 4:25 to play in the fourth and headed for the bench to be saved for the stretch.
“They were a pretty physical team and presented a few problems,” Brown said. “(But) we were not shooting very well.” That was evident in a raggedly played fourth quarter.
Lakeside would get the lead once again, 31-30 on a pair of Perkins’ free throws with 2:56 to play. But Stith, a lanky 6-foot, 3-inch forward, tossed up a 3 from the right side with 2:37 remaining to put the Cards ahead 33-31. It was a lead they would not lose, despite playing with three of four seniors on the bench.
Harvey-Mitchell’s pair of free throws gave ML a 35-31 lead and Michael Winchester’s bank shot with 57 seconds to go again made it a two-possession game at 37-33.
Lakeside’s Dominique Watson’s tip-in of a missed shot with 35 seconds to play trimmed it to 37-35, but Winchester hit one of two free throws with 23.4 seconds to play for a 38-35 Cardinal lead.
Elder was fouled on his 3-point attempt with 15.9 seconds remaining, but the sophomore was only able to hit the middle of the three free throws and trim the margin to 38-36.
Velasquez would come away with the rebound off the miss and was fouled as he advanced the ball. The junior hit one of the two shots from the stripe to give his team a 39-36 lead.
After the Eagles missed on a 3, Stith was fouled, connected on one of the two free throws for a 40-36 lead that survived after Spencer Reynolds missed on a long 3-point shot at the buzzer.
“Sometimes with the young guys, they don’t even know it’s the moment,” Brown said. “In their minds they’re always pressure moments.”
Tuesday at Newport the Cards led 16-14 after the first quarter but really dialed up the defense – and offense – and outscoring the Grizzlies 18-4 in the second and lead 34-18 at the break.
Paulson had a game-high 15 points while Garza pitched in 13 and Winchester 10.
As for their position in the battle for first, Brown likes where he and his team are at but he’s cautious just the same. “It’s still going to be a tough stretch but we’re happy with where we’re at.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.