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Super sophs star in Sparta’s District semifinal slaying of top-seeded Skyline


A thinking man’s point guard, Walker Loveland added up all aspects of Sparta’s Class 3 District 11 semifinal with Skyline that he was seeing and came to a conclusion.

With the Tigers all but daring Loveland to shoot, he eventually obliged by netting four 3-point goals and scoring a career-high 17 points in the No. 4-seeded Trojans’ 57-55 upset of No. 1 seed Skyline.

Early on, Loveland was left alone on the perimeter, even with the ball in his hands. Skyline’s scouting report obviously read that the 5-foot-5 sophomore doesn’t usually look for his own shot as a first, second or third option.

They were kind of staying back on me,” Loveland said. “I knew I needed to shoot. I needed to score and have (my defender) come out on me. They were having back-side help on (center Jake Lafferty) a whole lot more (than usual), so I wasn’t going to be able to get it to him as much. I knew that if I made a couple, they would guard me and then I could get around then and that would open things for Jake.”

Once Loveland established himself as a scoring threat, both he and Lafferty went on to score 11 of their 17 points in the second half.

We talked at halftime about, ‘How are they guarding you?’” Sparta coach Deric Link said of a pow wow he had with Loveland. “The big thing we said was FIO ‘Figure It Out.’ We talked about what adjustments do we need to make. He FIO’d tonight.”

Even while knowing he had to be more offensive-minded, Loveland was initially a bit gun-shy.

“Those first two (attempts) I kind of caught the ball and thought about it before I shot,” he said. “But those last few (attempts), I caught it and shot it. After I made one, I knew what I needed to do — catch, shoot and don’t even think about it.”

“We’ve been trying to get him to shoot more, but he’s always hesitant,” Lafferty said. “Tonight, he shot more and it worked out.”

After spotting Skyline a 7-0 lead, the Trojans overtook the Tigers in the second quarter and were on top the rest of the night. Their biggest lead was 11 points.

Lafferty asserted himself, even while surrounded by Skyline defenders. All the while, the sophomore learned from past experiences and stayed composed.

“I was getting double-teamed the whole time,” Lafferty said. “Honestly, it’s okay with me now. I’ve learned that if I’m getting double-teamed, we have a wide-open guy in the corner or on the wing.”

Dexter Loveland added 10 points to help Sparta’s cause and Kavan Walker chipped in eight, with all eight coming in the second half.

Lafferty delighted the packed house in the fourth quarter with a dunk over Skyline defenders, after a strong drive along the baseline to the hoop.

“I was thinking it was going to get blocked, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “So, I thought, ‘If you’re going to block me on a layup, I might as well try to dunk on you.’”

“He was going to be aggressive, knowing they could foul him,” Link said. “He went up strong.”

Loveland made four free throws in the final minutes to help clinch the outcome.

“I can’t talk highly enough about that kid,” Link said. “He embodies everything we believe in and our Creator would want us to embody. He gives everything he has. I love him to death.

“He is so unselfish and there are times I wish he’d score a little more,” Link added. “He sacrifices for us so we can be who we are.  But tonight he made some big shots and big free throws.”

Skyline (18-8) finally gave some semblance of a No. 1 seed by putting up 27 points in the fourth quarter. The Tigers made 13 field goals in final quarter, after having just 12 over the first three quarters.

But Skyline never held the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. The Tigers’ final points came on a layup with :0.9 left.

Sparta in-bounded the ball and the upset, or at least an upset on paper, was complete.

We came into this game a little iffy because of being a No. 4 seed going against a No. 1 seed,” Loveland said. “But I got to thinking of the Walnut Grove Tournament and how we beat (No. 1 seeded) Hollister. We knew what we needed to do.”

Sparta (18-10) advances to play No. 2 seed Strafford (19-8) in Friday’s final at 7:30 p.m.

SPARTA (57) — W. Loveland 4 5-7 17, Walker 2 2-4 8, Brown 2 0-0 5, D. Loveland 4 1-5 10, Letterman 0 0-2 0, Lafferty 7 3-7 17.

SKYLINE (55) — Williams 7 2-2 16, Cheek 6 2-4 15, Herrin 1 0-0 2, Beem 7 1-1 16, Owens 3 0-0 6.

Sparta   7  14 16  20 - 57

Skyline 11  6  11  27 - 55

3-point goals - W. Loveland 4, Walker 2, Brown, D. Loveland, Cheek, Beem.