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Forest Lake’s fortunes turn

Falcons’ improved defense ready to take on Sacramento Waldorf at homecoming
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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LAKE OF THE PINES — After losing one of the most prolific scorers in the state to graduation, coach Dave Thomas preached defense to his Forest Lake Christian boys basketball team as they prepped for the season. The concept took a while to sink in, but the Falcons eventually got the message. Their much-improved defense will get the ultimate test tonight. Sacramento Waldorf junior Chris Schwartz-Edmisten lit up Forest Lake for 49 points when the two teams met on Jan. 25 in Fair Oaks. The Waves’ star will be looking to cool off a Falcons’ squad that has not lost since their last date. “If we can hold him in check, we can make a game of it,” Thomas said. “The last time we played them, we did not defend (Schwartz-Edmisten) well. He hit a couple of early 3s and we could not stop him. But this is really the game of the year for us.” The Falcons will celebrate homecoming tonight and they’ll welcome back Josh Ritchart. His basketball jersey will officially be retired after he re-wrote the record books during a four-year career that led to a full-ride scholarship to UC Davis, where he is a freshman. The timing is fitting, given that Forest Lake only recently discovered its identity without the 6-8 Ritchart. The Falcons lost six of their first seven games this season and were not in the playoff picture. Their recent surge has them believing they can make noise in the playoffs. “We didn’t start off very well and I think once it hit us that we might not have a chance for playoffs, it became a reality and we started pushing really hard in practice,” senior point guard Randy Van Winkle said. “We’re more of a defensive team now. “With all of Josh’s blocked shots, we could rely on him. Now we really have to keep people in front of us and help each other out a lot more.” Forest Lake (7-3 CVCL, 11-13 overall) has won five of six games in the Central Valley Christian League. The Falcons are the only team in the CVCL to beat Victory Christian and they avenged a 21-point home loss to Delta with a 61-51 win in Clarksburg on Tuesday. “We knew we had some pretty good talent, it was just a matter of everyone coming together,” said junior Nathan Burnett, who has sparked Forest Lake’s balanced offense. “Our guards are very good at penetrating and we get a lot of easy backdoor baskets. We have a really strong bench and we get a lot of people involved in the game.” The Falcons’ dramatic improvement brings a smile to the face of Thomas, whom attended UCLA and constantly refers to the teachings of legendary Bruins coach John Wooden. “Every team talks about playing defense,” Thomas said. “But our improvement on defense is the biggest key for us. Defense never takes a night off.” Burnett is a believer in the Falcons’ ability to ratchet up the defense, which will be key against Sacramento Waldorf. A win would give Forest Lake an outside shot at a share of the league title and would likely improve their seeding for the upcoming Division V playoffs. “I think we’ll be able to hold their scoring down a lot more than last time,” said Burnett, who is a star on the tennis court in the spring. “We have a lot of momentum, it’s our homecoming game so everyone is going to be up for this game.” Van Winkle was an all-CVCL soccer player as the Falcons followed a similar path to success on the soccer pitch. They started the year 0-6, but turned things around and advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals. “It’s a little like soccer – a lot of the seniors knew it could be their last game every time we played,” Van Winkle said. “In basketball, the seniors are playing like every game is their last, putting it all out there.”