Lake Park's mental toughness was pushed to the limit Friday night, but the Lancers passed all the tests even while on the road.
Coming in with a four-game boys basketball losing streak, Lake Park found itself trailing Metea Valley by 4 points following a pair of free throws by the Mustangs' Jeremy Hunter with 3:51 left to play. But rather than buckle under the pressure, the Lancers (11-12, 6-7) scored the final 12 points of the night to claim the DuPage Valley Conference contest 63-55.
Lake Park started its late rally with back-to-back baskets by reserve Dan Spejcher to draw even, then took the lead for good on a pair of technical foul shots by Jake Hienik with 2:05 left to play. When guard Garett Fant followed with a strong drive to the rim for the final 2 of his game-leading 26 points, the Lancers were in control and on their way to completing a sweep of the Mustangs this season.
"We're coming off a losing streak against four state-ranked teams and then, being down in the fourth quarter, that's a mental check right there," said Fant, who had a pair of 3s while tallying 10 points in the fourth quarter. "But we were able to stick with it and get the win."
The Lancers jumped ahead 14-5 less than six minutes into Friday's game, but Metea Valley closed to within 16-12 after one quarter and then took its first lead of the night on a fastbreak by Ashton Creal at the end of the first half that put the hosts on top 28-26. Creal had 10 points in the second quarter on his way to a team-high 14.
The Mustangs (9-17, 5-9) then led 45-43 after three quarters and by as many as 6 at times in the second half. When Ethan Helwig had a 3-point shot followed by a spinning layup and three-point play, Metea Valley led 51-46 two minutes into the fourth quarter.
"Our goal coming into this game was to play harder than them, because they played harder than us the first time we played them and they jumped on us early," Creal said. "We had to match their intensity and top it and that's what we tried to do."
Lake Park coach Josh Virostko credited the Mustangs with a strong effort, but he was also proud of how his team finished strong while without its second-leading scorer Andrew Vega, out with an ankle injury.
"They played hard and they really beat us up on the hustle plays," Virostko said. "When we say hustle plays, it's plays like rebounds, where they destroyed us. And they made more plays on defense, on loose balls, and they made more opportunities for themselves off their effort.
"We got stagnant. We started watching. But I am proud of our guys. We missed Vega, but I thought we had some guys step up big."
Diamante Smith had 11 points, including a steal and layup that sealed the win, and Spejcher scored 10 points off the bench in the second half for the Lancers.
For the Mustangs, Creal led a balanced attack with 14 points, Helwig had 13, and Jeremy Hunter had 6 points and 10 rebounds. Payton Thorne chipped in with 9 points and 3 steals.
"Some unfortunate things happened down the stretch there, but I told the team don't let that ruin the fact that they competed all night long," Mustangs coach Matt Walpole said. "That No. 3 (Fant) is a real good player and he got loose for more points than we would like, but the goal was to keep it close and win it in fourth quarter. I was proud of the way they competed tonight."