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WDAY TV interviews Laker senior Joe Mollberg before the boys' basketball team left for the state tournament Tuesday morning. Brian Basham/DL Newspapers

'Underdog' tag suits Lakers just fine

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'Underdog' tag suits Lakers just fine
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Every morning since his seventh grade year, Detroit Lakes senior Joe Mollberg woke up to a site reminding him of the ultimate goal he wanted to obtain during his prep basketball career.

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You see, during his seventh grade year, the Mollberg family attended the State boys' basketball tournament in which he left with a simple ticket stub.

It was that ticket in which he awoke to every morning, after he pinned up to his bedroom ceiling directly over his bed.

This year, he won't need a ticket to get into the state boys' basketball tournament after the Lakers qualified for their first state berth in 94 years last Thursday.

"My dad hung a sign on my ceiling saying 'Finally got it done,' after we won the section championship," Mollberg said.

But even though it's a thrill to finally making the state playoffs, there isn't any satisfaction felt by the Lakers.

The job of winning games is still on DL's agenda.

The Lakers will face DeLaSalle Wednesday, starting at 2 p.m. inside Williams Arena.

"The town is excited and all of us are having fun with it," Mollberg said. "But we are ready to play. We are not going down there to lose."

Confidence is high throughout the Lakers' lineup, despite drawing one of the teams which are favorite to win the entire tournament in No. 2 seeded DeLaSalle.

The two teams' history are on different spectrums, with the Islanders vying for their sixth state championship and are partaking in their 17th state tournament and won championships in 1985, 1988, 1998, 1999 and 2006.

The two teams' records are similar, with DL bringing in a 22-7 record and DeLaSalle a 23-6 mark.

The Islanders head into the state with high expectations of winning it all and many basketball pundits agree.

But don't count the Laker team as one of them.

"We are in a good position now," said senior post Brian Labat. "They're the team from the Cities and are expecting to win it all.

"They could be overlooking us."

Being the underdog has its attractions and DL is entering as one, no doubt.

But one factor which does favor the Lakers is experience, with three of the five starters being seniors. The Islanders, on the other hand, rely on a pair of underclassmen in 6-6 and 240-pound sophomore forward Reid Travis and junior guard Luke Scott.

They also start a freshman in guard Jarvis Johnson.

But even though Travis is a sophomore, he can be considered a super soph, since he averages over 20 points and 11 rebounds a game.

"He will be the best player we see all year," said DL head coach Robb Flint. "Scott is a spot-up shooter and is accurate from the outside, too.

"But the big thing DeLaSalle does is they get after you defensively."

The Islanders put on relentless pressure defensively, which creates a bevy of turnovers, which in turn leads to easy transition buckets.

Although the Lakers outlasted Fergus Falls in an all-out physical brawl for the Section championship last Thursday, expect the defensive pressure to be stepped up a couple more notches against the Islanders.

"We need to take care of the ball with hard, crisp passes," said senior guard Rick Hutchinson. "They get up in your face defensively, so we need to know where to go with the ball."

The Lakers will once again be relying on Labat on taking the team's best forward, this time being Travis.

Labat already has conquered a pair of athletic, long forwards in Alexandria's Logan Doyle in the section semifinals and Fergus Falls' Mike Millard.

Both were taller than Labat, but both found it hard going against the aggressiveness and strength of the Division-I scholarship football player, who is going to the University of North Dakota this fall.

"'B' is primetime and he will step it up again, especially on defense," Mollberg said of Labat. "There are not many forwards stronger than 'B', he's a D-I football player for a reason."

Labat knows the task in front of him, but as usual, he is up for it.

"We just need to play tough team defense on him," Labat said. "But I have a lot of experience against forwards taller than me.

"I just play physical against them, so they finally don't want to play against you."

Junior guard Derek Long will also have the task of defending Scott, in which Flint is more than confident in his player's ability.

"D-Long defends well, so I'm not too worried about him," the DL coach added.

When the Lakers can find their shots, they will need to take them and more importantly, make them.

Mollberg is also adding onto his all-time DLHS scoring mark with 1,400-plus career points and he hopes for more Wednesday.

"We're hoping for a good start and hit a few shots early," Mollberg said. "They're goal is to win state, so I doubt they are thinking too much of us."

Hutchinson is also continuing a state basketball legacy within his family.

He is one of three Lakers whose sisters were on the first Detroit Lakes girls' basketball state team which qualified in 2005.

Hutchinson's sister Betsy and Robin were on that team, while his teammate seniors Tyler Baukol (Sarah) and Jake Hoganson (Hallie and Abby) also had sisters on the 2005 squad.

"It was fun watching (his sisters) at state and I was hoping one day it could be me there," Hutchinson said.

With the Lakers re-introducing themselves to the state playoffs for the first time in 94 years, one thing is for certain -- they are going to make it count.

"We are happy for being in state, but not satisfied," Flint said. "Our guys are very competitive and want to win.

"There isn't any pressure on us and we like being the underdog. A lot of people think DeLaSalle is going to win it all. That's fine with us."

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Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN. 
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