Lake Wales recovered strong from a stinging last minute loss in Bartow with three strong victories last week, including an important, close win over district rival Auburndale.
The victories leave Lake Wales with an 8-5 record overall, and 3-0 in district play.
The streaking Bloodhounds, ranked 3rd in Class 5A by the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches and riding a 12 game winning streak, had Lake Wales on the ropes Tuesday night in Highlander gym, up nine in the fourth quarter with under five minutes to play. But Senior wing Douglas Brooks led Lake Wales on a furious comeback, scoring 12 of the Highlanders’ 25 points in the final five minutes en route to an 80-78 win.
“Doug had a tremendous effort. He kept us balanced and gave a good defensive effort as usual,” said Lake Wales’ head coach Randy Lee. “He also led us with a couple steals with deflections and nailed some critical free throws down the stretch to help us win.”
Brooks finished with 24 points. Junior Savonte Frazier pitched in 21 off the bench, and senior Marcus Dewberry added 16, including clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.
The Highlanders’ trademark press was ineffective for much of the game, as Auburndale was able handle the pressure and hold the lead for most of the second half, but Lake Wales turned it up late.
“Our effort was fairly consistent, but I think we were a little smarter near the end. We had some poor assignments early, but towards the end we locked in,” Lee said.
The man at the front of Lake Wales’ press, junior Dedric Brinson, forced a steal that turned into the winning basket with just over two minutes to play, as Frasier’s two gave Lake Wales their first lead of the second half at 71-70, one they would never relinquish.
The Highlanders made 9 of 10 free throws in the final minute to pull out the victory.
“The guys kept believing that we could pull it out with defense and energy. The guys just stuck with it, what we are, who we are,” Lee said.
Rosemond Elexis led Auburndale with 18 points, while Daryle Henry had 15 and Derwin James and Elmo Stephen each added 14.
Lee was especially pleased with his defense, particularly Brinson’s, effort on Stephen, who was held well below his season average.
With Lake Wales ranked number 2 in Class 5A by the FABC heading into the week, one ahead of Auburndale, both coaches knew this would be the main battle for district 10, and the winner would have a good chance at competing for the state crown. The two teams next tangled in Auburndale Tuesday, Jan. 15, in their final meeting of the regular season.
The loss drops Auburndale to 14-2 on the year, and 1-1 in district play.
Lake Wales followed it up with an 88-80 win over district foe Hardee in Wauchula Thursday night.
The game proved to be unexpectedly close against a team that Auburndale beat by 39 earlier in the year, but Lee said he was happy to get a win and move on at this point in the season.
“We weren’t as sharp at times as we should be, he said. “But we have to understand that people are gunning for us. We’re the team that everyone wants to beat as state champions.”
Hardee fell to 0-2 in district play with the loss.
The week began with a significant 70-51 beating of Gainesville Eastside High School, just hours after their stunning loss to fierce county rival Bartow.
Lake Wales went to Bartow Jan. 4 hoping to avenge a 71-51 loss at the hands of the Yellow Jackets at Warner University earlier in the season. The rivals have played neck and neck every year in recent memory, with the winner of the season series often competing for the state championship.
Jan. 4 was no exception, as the game went back and forth, no team leading by more than six points throughout. After two Brooks free throws tied the game at 66 with 14 seconds left, Bartow advanced the ball and called a timeout with 3.3 seconds on the clock after a Lake Wales trap could have sent the game into overtime.
Out of the timeout, Bartow guard Derrick Brooks took two steps and hit a buzzer beating, fade away jumper in the face of several Lake Wales defenders to give Bartow the season sweep.
“Obviously the Bartow loss was a tough loss to swallow, obviously they’re a quality team and program, you cant take anything away from them,” Lee said later in the week.
“But our guys responded well, going up to Gainesville and winning by 19, and then heading into district play. I thought they remained focused on what our long-term goals are. And I think getting tested by Bartow is going to prepare us for the long term as well,” he said.
After the match up in Auburndale on Tuesday, Lake Wales heads home for games against Winter Haven and Hardee Thursday and Friday. The Highlanders then play in the Wally Keller Classic over the weekend at Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda.