With a night of rest and thought, the Vikings prepared themselves for the Midwest Conference Championship game. One more victory equaled a trophy but more importantly, more season to play. Once again, home field advantage proved valuable for our Vikings as the crowd’s support often picked up our Vikings when times seemed to be heading south. Like Friday night’s game, the Vikings began by scoring the first basket. Unlike Friday night’s game, they would not fall behind so easily, at least right away. Also unlike Friday’s game, star senior Ben Rosenblatt was not dressed. Doubt began to filter through the minds of each Viking fan. They knew that their job was to help fill the shoes of their wounded warrior. Each Viking player knew they would have to step up for arguably the biggest games of their lives. A sigh of relief filled the air as junior Jayce Apelgren, rising star for the Vikings attempted to fill the huge shoes of Rosenblatt. Everyone knew this game was going to be interesting and afterwards no fan left unfulfilled.
For the first three and half minutes, the Vikings and Pioneers battled for leads. If Friday night’s heart attacks were not enough for the fans of Lawrence University, then certainly Saturday’s were. From 16:59-12:42, the Pioneers went on a 13-3 run to give the Pioneers a 10 point lead. Saved by senior Dylan Fogel’s two three pointers, the Vikings deficit was 6 points with a little over 11 minutes to play. The Vikings continued to fight back as the Pioneers saw their lead evaporate to two points with a little under nine minutes to play. Over the next six minutes, the Pioneers went on a 16-8 run, increasing their lead to ten points with two minutes to play. The Vikings could not respond as they ended the half down 13 points, 36-49. The combination of hot shooting from Carroll College and sub-par shooting from Lawrence proved to be a poor combination for our Vikings.
The Pioneers tried to ignore the screams of the crowd and the passion of our Vikings, but slowly, their lead began to dwindle. As the second half progressed, the Pioneer lead dropped from ten points, to five points, to two points. Then, with 11:13 left in the half, Dekker hit one of his clutch three pointers to give the Vikings a 60-59 lead. Realizing what just happened, the Pioneers quickly fought back and much like the opening minutes of the game, the Vikings and Pioneers battled for the lead.
Neither team was willing to surrender. So much was on the line. The final 10 minutes saw 10 lead changes and 46 points. With 52 seconds left in the game, the Vikings saw an all too familiar scene. Once again, “two points is all we need” echoed through the crowd. Once again, the men’s team showed us how much we know about basketball. After a team timeout, the Vikings ran their play and yet another miracle. With 37 seconds to play, Kroeger had the ball, quickly passed it to Kadison, who drained a three pointer, giving the Vikings a two point lead. Deja vu? The fans could not believe it; the Vikings have done it again! But, with 16 seconds Carroll’s Ladwig tied the game, the championship was going into overtime.
Both teams shared leads for the first three minutes of the five-minute overtime. After a field goal from Hurley and a steal and pair of free throws from Kroeger, the Vikings saw a three point lead with a little over a minute to play. After a turnover and a missed shot from the Pioneers, the Vikings increased their lead to six with 16 seconds to play on a pair of made free throws from senior Tommy Schmidt. Anticipation filled the air but no one said a word. With four seconds left, Ladwig hit a three point shot, pulling the Pioneers within one point. Then off the tricky inbound play, the Vikings saw Kroeger with the ball, who was quickly fouled. The gymnasium silent, Kroeger made both free throws as the Vikings won 98-95. “We are the champions” soon turned into song as the fans rushed the court. Lawrence men’s basketball faithful and possible mascot, Jimmy Kloppman, put it best, “that was one hell of a game.” Smiles accompanied by leaps into the air filled the gym as our boy’s were victorious for the eighth consecutive time.
Five Vikings scored in double digits, a common trend throughout the season. Kroeger led all Lawrence scorers with 27 points and Fogel had a career best 11 points. The Vikings shot better from the field than against the Green Knights, going just under 50% from the field and 40% from three point range.
The Vikings, now 22-2, are off to face Wheaton (Ill.) College at 6:00 p.m. Friday at the Williams Center at UW-Whitewater. Tickets cost $3 with a student ID. Come support our men!