Maurice Hernandez came off the bench last year to help the Central Lakes College Raiders dominate opponents on their home court.
Now a starter, Hernandez stepped up to defend the Raiders’ home court in grand fashion during Saturday’s 59-57 victory over Quakerdale Prep in the Raiders’ home opener.
With two seconds left, Hernandez received a pass from Michael Farrington in the low block. His shot kissed the backboard and slide through the basket for the winning score.
“We had a play set up to run, but I kind of got caught up in the moment,” Hernandez said. “Michael (Farrington) came in and dropped the pass and luckily I got the shot to go in, but it was a good hard fought game.”
Hernandez finished with 11 points just behind Kwamaine Johnson’s 12 points to lead the Raiders.
Freshman Kevin Kuefler made his presence felt in the low post as he finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
“Kevin is from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and they were 32-1 last year,” said head coach Jim Russell. “We recruited Kevin because he is a scrappy defender and he plays with a lot of heart. It doesn’t matter what size the opponent was, he went in there.”
The first half was riddled with sloppy play from both teams. The Raiders held the Eagles scoreless for the last 2:39 of the first half. CLC scored the last eight points to take a 29-21 halftime lead.
“Our biggest thing tonight was finding the character of this team and who will be the leaders, who will be the scorers and who will handle the ball,” Russell said. “We are still trying to find out our identity and it was our first home game. There was a lot of jitters, but we played a good team that was playing their eighth game.”
CLC extended its lead early in the second half thanks to tough transition defense.
“This year our defense is our offense,” said Hernandez. “We have to work on our defense harder to create our offense and get our shots. This year, we are kind of short so we have to look forward to our defense and have our big guys rebound as much as they can.”
Quakerdale cut into the Raiders lead due mostly to CLC’s poor shooting. The Raiders shot 33 percent from the floor and went 5-of-14 from the free throw line in the second half.
The Eagles tied the game at 55 with 1:58 remaining. Each team scored one more basket. That set up CLC’s last possession.
After getting called for a charging violation on the Raiders’ previous possession, Farrington whittled the clock down. Then he located Hernandez for the win.
Quakerdale Prep 21 36 — 57
Central Lakes 29 30 — 59