By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Weaubleau, Mo. — When it comes to district championship games, Skyline has been through the wringer, splitting a pair of overtime thrillers in the past two seasons.
Reaching a third-straight district final, the battle-tested Tigers utilized that experience in a 67-55 victory over Lakeland Saturday night.
Skyline head coach Tommy Egan credited his team’s depth and resilient nature in a game full of momentum-stealing runs.
“We play a lot of sophomores, but they’ve already been in a bunch of big games,” Egan said. “I’m just so happy in the depth that we’ve shown — playing eight to nine guys every night — and whoever checks in, they’re not scared of the moment. They come in, they make plays, they play their role and they do whatever it takes.”
For the Tigers, whatever it took including a game-high 22 points from Dax Beem.
Beem, a 5-foot-9 senior, set the tone for his teammates at both ends of the court.
“[Dax] is known to be a scorer and a shooter, but he made a number of huge defensive plays tonight,” Egan said. “He had some huge steals and found his teammates a couple times on some nice assists. We kind of expect him to score the ball for us a little bit, but I liked what he did on the other end of the floor.”
Lawson Beem and Jaytin DeFreece joined Dax in double figures with 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Both teams sought to establish early tempo, with Lakeland proving to be a more-than-capable counter puncher in a first quarter that ended in a 15-15 tie.
Rafe Kalberloh and Blake Munsterman combined for 11 of Lakeland’s points in the opening frame.
While the Vikings were able to build a 24-21 lead early in the second, Skyline quickly responded with an 11-0 run.
For Dax Beem, it was only a matter of time before he and his Tiger teammates would key a big run and recapture control in the game.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Beem said. “Everybody’s going to make their run, and you’ve just got to stay the course and be ready for your run.”
After taking a 35-28 lead into the break, Skyline stretched its lead to as many as 11 points in the third; however, Lakeland wasn’t ready to concede.
A 7-0 run from the Vikings cut the deficit to a single possession at 43-40.
Following a free throw from Dax Beem, it was younger brother Lawson’s turn to shine.
The sophomore’s 3-pointer sparked an 8-0 Skyline run and opened up a 12-point lead for the Tigers.
In the fourth, it was deja vu all over again, with Lakeland mounting a comeback from the perimeter.
Midway through the period, back-to-back 3-pointers brought the Vikings within five at 56-51.
Almost on queue, there was Lawson Beem to thwart another run — this time connecting on a wing 3-pointer right in front of the Skyline bench.
For Egan and the Tigers, Beem’s 3-pointer turned out to be a game-changer.
“We’ve got multiple kids that step up and hit big shots in big moments,” Egan said. “I’m kind of spoiled, but that was a big-time shot. I think that kind of gave us the separation where we could finally pull away there a little bit.”
Egan also felt Skyline’s defensive pressure also played a pivotal role in the final quarter against a weary Lakeland squad.
“I’d like to think that we got into their legs,” Egan said. “We played that full-court style the entire game, and I’d like to think we just started to wear on them a little bit. Some of those shots that were dropping early, now they don’t have that same lift, and they don’t have that same conditioning, possibly. I thought that played a big factor.”
Kalberloh led Lakeland with 13 points. The Vikings finish the season with a 23-5 record.
Up next for Skyline (27-2) is a sectional round matchup at State Fair Community College on Wednesday, March 4. The Lady Tigers will face District 14 champion Crest Ridge.
Class 2 District 13 Championship: Skyline – 67, Lakeland – 55
Lakeland 15 13 12 15 — 55
Skyline 15 20 14 18 — 67
Lakeland scoring: Rafe Kalberloh – 13, Corbin Meeker – 10, Blake Munsterman – 10, Jace Uchtman – 8, Garrett Strange – 6, Gavin Wilkins – 6, Aden Malloy – 2
Skyline scoring: Dax Beem – 22, Lawson Beem – 15, Jaytin DeFreece – 10, Bradyn Porter – 9, Chris Logan – 6, Kourt Cheek – 4, Gage Gunter – 1