STERLING – The final game of the season at Musgrove Fieldhouse came down to just one possession, and it belonged to the Sterling Golden Warriors.
The Warriors scrapped and clawed to erase an early double-digit deficit against NIB-12 West champion LaSalle-Peru on Friday night, and earned one last chance to hand the Cavaliers their first conference loss.
But after running more than 2 minutes off the clock, Sterling could only settle for a half-court shot by Cornell Hartz. It ricocheted off the backboard as the buzzer sounded, preserving L-P’s 46-45 victory.
“We called a play for a zone [defense] in our final timeout, and just our luck, they came out in man,” Sterling junior Zach Rehmert said. “I tried to come and get the ball, but they had fouls to give and made us throw the ball in the backcourt on two straight inbounds passes.
“We tried to run a play we’d only run once in practice, but we couldn’t get aligned right and we were out of luck.”
It looked like luck was favoring the Warriors (10-17, 4-6) down the stretch. Trailing 37-31 with 7:35 to play, Rehmert hit a pull-up jumper, then Chase Shetter put back a Rehmert miss and followed that with a hanger in the lane to get Sterling within 39-37. After a Brady Huebbe 3-pointer, Alex Soriano nailed a pair of 3s 41 seconds apart to give the Warriors a 43-42 lead.
“We just kept hustling as hard as we could, scrapping for everything, doing anything we could to try and get points every possession,” Shetter said. “We started rebounding better, we tightened up the defense, and we knocked down a few big shots, and those things made all the difference.”
Noah Lamboley hit a pair of free throws to give L-P the lead again, then Rehmert hit a hanger nearly identical to the one Shetter converted a minute and a half earlier to put Sterling up 45-44. But Jens Soderholm answered for the Cavs, driving down the lane and finishing with a finger roll over the front of the rim to give L-P a 46-45 lead with 2:13 to play.
That set up Sterling’s long final possession, which came up empty.
“Those 2 minutes seemed like at least 5 or 6,” said Soderholm, who passed the 1,000-point mark for his career with a 20-point night. “You always want to be the team with the ball in that situation, but we knew with only three fouls that we could make them reset their offense a few times. I think that jostled them out of what they wanted to do, and they couldn’t get into a fluid offense and get anything going to the rim.”
Early on, it looked like it wouldn’t even come down to a last possession. Sterling trailed 23-10 just 12 seconds into the second quarter, but scored the final eight points of the first half and the first four of the third period to take a 26-25 lead with 5:57 left in the third.
That’s when the Warriors first tried to take the air out of the ball. Sterling ran a minute and a half off the clock, only to see the momentum they’d gained with their 12-0 run vanish.
L-P (17-9, 10-0) took advantage of Sterling’s turnover after the long possession with a five-point trip of its own. Lamboley buried a 3-pointer, and Sterling was whistled for a foul as the teams fought for rebounding position.The Cavs made it sting, as Huebbe drove down the lane for a layup to give L-P a 30-26 lead; Soderholm hit a pair of free throws less than a minute later to extend the margin to 32-26 with 1:22 left in the third.
Rehmert had the answer, hitting a 3 and a jumper to pull Sterling back within 32-31. The Cavs led 34-31 heading into the fourth quarter, then got a Soderholm 3 to open the fourth, setting up the thrilling finish.
Soderholm had 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, while Lamboley and Huebbe scored 11 apiece.
Rehmert’s 13 points paced Sterling, and he also had five rebounds. Shetter had 10 points and nine boards.
“We did what we had to do to give ourselves a chance at the end,” Sterling coach Jim Preston said. “When it comes down to a single possession, you replay in your head about 40 plays throughout the game where you could have done something differently. But the kids gave a great effort to battle back, and credit L-P for playing smart basketball down the stretch.”
LaSalle-Peru 46, Sterling 45
Star of the game: Jens Soderholm, LP, 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists
Key performers: Chase Shetter, Sterling, 10 points, 9 rebounds; Zach Rehmert, Sterling, 13 points, 5 rebounds; Noah Lamboley, LP, 11 points, 3 3-pointers, 2 assists, 2 steals
Up next: Sterling at IMSA, 5:30 p.m. today