Boys basketball: Lake City’s leaders have state experience

March 20, 2019

Two years ago when Lake City played in the Class AA boys basketball state tournament, Nathan Heise and Reid Gastner were starters despite being freshmen.

And while Heise and Gasnter played a key role for the Tigers, they were newcomers to the team. Now as juniors, Heise and Gastner have once again helped Lake City earn a Class AA state berth, and this time around they are definitely the Tigers’ go-to players.

“It’s different because when we were young guys, in ninth grade, we were led by Mark (Kjos) and Mitch (Marian) and now we’re some of the leaders of the team so it gives us a lot of pride,” Heise said.

“We’ve been through it, so we know how to lead,” Gastner added. “So we just have to help the younger kids and the people who haven’t been there. We know how to handle it now so we have to help them through.”

Heise, a 6-foot-4 guard, leads the Tigers in scoring at 22.1 points per game. Gasnter, a husky 6-3 forward, is second on the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game. The two players are virtually tied for the team lead in rebounding and assists. Heise has 127 assists (4.7 per game) and 181 rebounds (6.7 per game) while Gasnter has 126 assists and 182 rebounds.

The fifth-seeded Tigers (26-2) open state-tournament play when they face No. 4 Melrose (26-4) in the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Target Center.

Seniors Ethan Heitman, a 6-6 backup forward, and Josh Matanich, a 6-2 forward, were also on the state roster two years ago. Heitman was a key backup then, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

“We’ve got three guys who have experience up there,” Lake City coach Greg Berge said. “That includes our two key players. Those guys are our leaders, they’re not going to be in awe up there because they’ve been there before.”

Two seasons ago the Tigers drew No. 1 Minnehaha Academy in the first round. Lake City played the eventual champions tough before falling. With a strong starting cast and leaders with state experience, the Tigers have hopes of competing for a state title.

“That’s our mindset going in,” Heise said of winning the tournament.

“I know these guys aren’t just happy to get there,” Berge said. “We’re very proud and we want to make some noise up there. We’re going to give it our best shot and we can beat anybody on any given night, we’ve proven it this year.”

Lake City and Melrose have one thing in common as they prepare to meet in the state quarterfinals: They both have 18-game winning streaks.

Melrose has been led by 6-foot senior guard Preston Keaveny, who averages 20 points per game. Sophomores Rowan Nelson, a 6-4 forward, and Grant Moscho, a 6-1 guard, both average just more than 11 points per game. The Dutchmen have been able to put together a long winning streak despite losing 2018 team MVP Reegan Nelson to a thumb injury after just 15 games.

Both teams have relied heavily on defense this season. Lake City allows an average of just 48.3 points per game while scoring 66.0. Melrose allows 54.5 points per game and scores 65.5.

“We play defense at a very high level and our guys have bought into that,” Berge said.

“We just have to play our game, what got us there,” Gastner said.

The Tigers are very good on defense, but that’s not their only strength. They also excel at shooting the ball, and protecting it.

“We’ve protected the ball really well, we’re only averaging eight and a half turnovers a game, and we shoot the ball really well,” Berge said.

Matanich, who averages 7.6 points per game, is shooting 69 percent from the field, mostly from close range. Heise, a long-range shooter, is hitting 59 percent from the floor and 36 percent from 3-point range. Gastner is shooting 51 percent and he is also at 36 percent from beyond the arc. Junior Jake Wohlers (8 points per game) is shooting just 33 percent overall, but 42 percent from 3-point range.

“It’s really a pretty simple game at times,” Berge said.

While the Tigers are thrilled to be playing in the tournament, the fan base has also enjoyed the team’s success.

“We’re really excited and our community is really excited,” Berge said.

If the Tigers get past Melrose, a date with top-seeded Minnehaha Academy is likely on tap in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at Target Center. That is also the day the Lake City band is expected to depart on a spring trip.

“Every team’s going to be good, we already know that,” Heise said. “We just have to stick to defense, hit our shots and everything will take care of itself.”