Source: Sherman Publications

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Dragons burn Falcons for district championship

by Gabriel L. Ouzounian

March 14, 2012

The team gathers for the tide of incoming cameras and media after Friday’s game. They remind the newsstands which team proved victorious. Photo by G. Ouzounian
Anyone that has seen a Lake Orion senior basketball player is now looking at an MHSAA divisional champion.

Traveling to Rochester to do battle against the Falcons, a team which Orion has lost to twice in the regular season, the Dragons fought tooth, nail and wing to bring about the 48-44 win. The past two games saw an overtime loss for Orion and another very close game go to the Falcons, but the Dragon's came ready to win last Friday.

The score was never far apart, with Rochester responding to Orion's height and deadly inside play with speed and maneuverability. Rochester was the more experienced team and had the power of senior Tyler Perry, one of the top five players in Michigan. Lake Orion managed to keep a solid lead for most of the game, only letting the Falcons take the lead a small number of times.

This was until the fourth quarter, when the Falcons took a late game lead and continued to play steadfast on their defense. Yet after a penalty on Falcon territory, the Dragons had an opportunity to retake the lead and thanks to trick pass ricocheting off an unaware Falcon, senior guard Justin Walukonis managed just that. The Falcons managed another couple of electrifying plays, but after junior Damonte Kruse nailed two free throws in the final seconds of the game, the victory, and the trophy, went to Lake Orion.

Head Coach Tom Risi said the Dragons, despite their two prior losses, were confident going into the game.

" We lost twice but we were playing pretty even with them," he said. "They're a good basketball team and very well coached, but we've matched up well this season. Still they gave us a big challenge with Perry, but we were confident we could hang with them."

Risi said the Falcon's attempted to shut down Lake Orion's now classic height advantage by collapsing on the net, forcing Orion to shoot from outside - a task the team has not excelled at in the 2011 season. Still, the team managed to score well in the game shooting from the perimeter. Leading the scoring was Kruse with 13 points, followed by Walukonis with 12, sophomore John McCarty with nine and senior Brad Watterworth with seven. But Walukonis and Kruse offered more than just offensive opportunities that night.

"I have to give it up to Walukonis for that night becasue he was given the task of guarding one of the OAA's top players," said Risi. Perry had 18 points and we're talking about a kid who averages 25 a night. Meanwhile Kruse is guarding senior Paris Pereia who also averages around 25 and he holds him to 11. The defensive effort was critical.

"We held those two to 29 points and the team to 44. That's one of the lower scores you see, especially in the playoffs. Our two kids were key to this team."

Risi also remarked on Kruse's offensive play and said he was impressed that the 6'5" guard was typically going against a 6'5" Falcon and still managing to "get it on the glass." He also noted Watterworth was "an animal with rebounds."

The team also played Bloomfield Hills Lahser on Monday, March 12, beating the team 52-50 with a last minute three point shot from junior Chaz Miller with less than 30 seconds left in the game.

About the Orion's unexpected post-season streak, Risi said he almost enjoys the lack of respect from other teams, because it keeps Orion hungry for wins.

The team plays Waterford-Mott tonight, March 14, at 7 p.m. on home court for the regional championship.