The Tartan Holiday Tournament showcased stiff competition for the Forest Lake boys basketball team over the weekend, as the Rangers went 1-1 through the first two rounds of the eight-team tournament.
Forest Lake opened the tournament by capturing a 79-76 win over Rogers to place the Rangers in the semifinal round against Columbia Heights on Saturday night. The Rangers jumped to an early lead against the Royals, then fell behind by 10 points in the second half. Forest Lake crawled back to take the lead with 1:30 remaining, and held on to win with the help of junior Connor Knutson on the free-throw line.
In the matchup against the Hylanders on Saturday, it was nearly deja vu. Forest Lake jumped to an early lead they would maintain for most of the first half until Columbia Heights’ half-court pressure got the best of the Rangers.
The Hylanders took the lead at 21-19 with five minutes remaining in the first half, but sophomore Toby Boyer kept Forest Lake in the game with a drive up the right side for a tear drop to tie things up at 21. Columbia Heights answered two possessions later with a jumper in the lane, then made the most of Forest Lake’s foul trouble with bonus free throws to push ahead for a 29-23 lead over the Rangers at the half.
After the break, Columbia Heights maintained a double-digit lead for much of the second half. Boyer sank a 3-pointer to put Forest Lake within nine points with less than four minutes left in the semifinal matchup. Two possessions later, Waterman drove from the right wing for another two points with 2:40 remaining.
In a quick turn of events, the Rangers nearly completed a comeback when Degendorfer converted a Hylander turnover into a 3-pointer to bring Forest Lake within four points at 61-57. Columbia Heights answered with a short jumper down low, followed by another Degendorfer score off a left-side drive.
The Hylanders would respond with two points of their own to keep their lead at 65-59 with 1:40 left in the game. On Columbia Height’s next possession, Knutson came up with a steal for an easy lay in to bring his squad within four points, prompting a quick timeout by Forest Lake.
With Ranger pressure at half court from sophomore Noah Alm and Degendorfer, Waterman stole the ball and kicked it to Alm, who was fouled on the shot with just under a minute to go. Alm went 1-2, making it a one-possession game.
Waterman would come up with another steal, this time passing to Degendorfer for a layup on the right side to make it a 65-64 ball game.
Columbia Heights scored an easy two points down low, then the Rangers committed a turnover, forcing them to foul with 19 seconds remaining. Following two made free throws for the Hylanders, Degendorfer drained a 3-pointer from the right wing with 15 seconds to go.
Boyer then committed a quick foul to stop the clock. The Hylanders sank both free throws to extend their lead, 71-67, but Degendorfer continued a long-shot showcase with another 3-pointer on the right side to trail by one point with seven seconds left. After another pair of Columbia Heights free throws, Knutson ran the ball up court with six seconds remaining, but missed the 3-pointer amid pressure at the top of the key to fall in the semifinal, 73-70.
In both matchups, Degendorfer and Knutson led in scoring with 20-plus points, including 31 for Degendorfer against Columbua Heights.
Head coach Dan Cremisino said the tournament has been a good experience with many evenly matched squads, giving Forest Lake the chance to gain experience in tight matchups.
“They’re getting better, I think, and we’ve done some growing up, which is usually what we do around this time of year,” Cremisino said. “You have to remember, we have eight guys who are seeing varsity minutes for the first time. I think Noah Alm really grew this tournament. He took care of the ball really well for us in the Columbia Heights game, even with that half-court pressure – really good for a sophomore.”
Forest Lake (4-6) played Spring Lake Park for third place on Monday night to conclude the Tartan Holiday Tournament. Columbia Heights faced Tartan for the title. Next, the Rangers travel to Stillwater on Friday, Jan. 3, for a 7:15 p.m. game.