The Prior Lake boys basketball team had a raucous home crowd on its side in the Section 2AAAA title game March 15.
Second-seeded Eden Prairie had a dynamic 6-foot-0 point guard in junior Drake Dobbs. All game long when he touched the ball, Dobbs heard the chant, "Air Ball! Air ball," from the Lakers' student section after he missed his first three-pointer of the game.
Well, Dobbs got the last laugh. He made three three-pointers in the second half, scoring 22 of his game-high 29 points to lead the Eagles to a 62-45 win over top-seeded Prior Lake in front of packed gym of roughly 2,400 spectators.
Dobbs dominated the second half and not just by just scoring. He dictated the entire tempo of the game, breaking pressure and finding open teammates for easy baskets. Eden Prairie outscored the Lakers 41-23 in the final 18 minutes.
And Dobbs was not shy about giving the Prior Lake student section a confident glare with each big bucket or big play he made in the second half, despite the fact the air-ball chants continued even after Dobbs started to dominate.
Prior Lake led the Eagles 23-22 at the break, but the one-point lead seemed to favor the Eagles. Eden Prairie was 0 for 8 from three-point range in the first half and just kind of hung in there to keep things close.
The Eagles opened the second half on a 12-2 run, including two threes from Dobbs. Junior Dawson Garcia helped keep the Lakers within striking distance. He scored back-to-back hoops, the second one on an ally-op feed from senior Jackyse Jacox, cutting the Eagles' lead to 37-34.
But Dobbs and Connor Christensen followed with threes to put Eden Prairie back up 43-34 with nine minutes to play. The Lakers played catchup from that point as the Eagles slowly pulled away.
The 6-10 Garcia led the Lakers with 21 points, while 6-10 senior Robert Jones finished with 12 points. Junior Tyree Ihenacho had 4 points for Prior Lake, while Jacox and senior Sam Nissen each had 3 points and senior Jake Veldman chipped in 2.
Prior Lake finished the season with a 25-4 overall mark (16-2 in the South Suburban Conference). The 25 wins are a program-best.
The Lakers also played in their first section final as a Class 4A program. Prior Lake moved up to the biggest class at the start of the 2003-04 season.
Does experience matter? This year's title game was Eden Prairie's 11th straight section final appearance and its seventh championship in that span.
Heading into this season, Prior Lake had lost in the section semifinals the last five years and six of the last eight.
The Lakers won back-to-back Class 2A state titles in 1977 and 1978 with 24-1 and 24-4 records, respectively.
Prior Lake will be hit hard by graduation. The Lakers played mostly nine players this winter and seven were seniors, including Carson Schoeller, Nicholas Mullins and Colin O'Connor.
Garcia led the Lakers in scoring average at 26.0 points per game, while Jones averaged 17.2 points and Nissen averaged 13.7.
Meanwhile, all five Eden Prairie starters were juniors, so the Eagles will again be the team to beat next winter in Section 2AAAA if the field stays the same when section realignment comes out in mid-April.