South Tahoe boys basketball coach Chris Proctor decided to go down a road he had never traveled before.
"I did something I haven't done as a coach: I told these boys in the pregame that I thought it was a big game - a league game," said Proctor, whose Vikings rose to the challenge and took a 55-52 victory over the Carson Senators Tuesday at Morse Burley Gym. "I said, 'It's an away game against Carson in Carson. If you win it might set you up for the rest of the season.'"
Only time will reveal if South Tahoe's big win will pay dividends down the road, but it had an immediate impact for the Vikings, who improved to 2-4 in the Sierra League (4-12 overall), while dropping Carson to 3-4 (10-10).
"That was a huge loss," said Senators coach Bruce Barnes. "Hopefully it wasn't one that will come back and hurt us later in the year. We were expected to win this one."
And for a while, it appeared the Senators were on their way to a tough win at the halfway mark in the league season.
Carson trailed 40-31 with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the third quarter before going on a 14-4 tear. Junior point guard Matt Rutledge began the run with a spin move in the lane followed by a layup.
Caleb Carter added a putback and a 3-pointer in the surge, which he capped with a layup off a Brian Barnes steal to give the Senators a 45-44 lead, with 2:39 to go in the game.
Paul Cagle led Carson with 14 points - including 10 in the second quarter - followed by Barnes and Rutledge, who each added 10.
Chris Eidam led the Vikings with 16 points, including seven in the fourth quarter. After 6-foot-6 Vince Capellino (seven points) stopped and popped from the top of the key to give South Tahoe back the lead at 46-45, Eidam came through with four free throws to make it 50-45 with 1:30 to go.
"He's a workhorse at point guard for us," Proctor said of Eidam. "Some games he doesn't get any points, but we always win when he scores. We have Vince Capellino and Anthony Stagnaro (who added six points), but (Eidam) is the heart of the team. He took us home tonight for sure."
Dion Murphy added seven points for the Vikings, who fended off a late rally by the Senators.
Rutledge converted a pair of free throws -as did Cagle - and Carson was down one at 50-49, with 53 seconds remaining.
Capellino made 2-of-4 foul shots over the next 25 seconds as South Tahoe clung to a 52-49 lead.
Eidam hit the back end of a one-and-one after a steal to give the Vikings a four-point lead, but Barnes drained a 3-pointer to make it 53-52 with 5.5 seconds to go.
Mac Cerceo made the front end of a one-and-one and Murphy followed with a rebound and was fouled, which put the game away for the Vikings.
"We've had a lot of close ones this last week," Proctor said. "At practice we worked on close games. It worked. I don't like to put pressure on them, but I felt like I had to make it clear to the boys that it was an important game."
Coach Barnes took the blame for the loss, saying he didn't run his substitutions the right way, but the Senators scored only six points in the third quarter and didn't do themselves any favors with a 19-for-51 night from the field and by committing 17 turnovers and 19 fouls.
By contrast, even though they had 20 turnovers, the Vikings were 18-of-39 from the field and went 17-of-29 from the charity stripe.
"For whatever reason, they didn't come ready to play; that was evident from the first quarter," Barnes said of his team. "We missed way too many easy shots. We missed a bunch inside. Usually we find someone who gets it going. We didn't tonight."
Already without Will Holbert, who's gone for the season with a leg injury, Carson was again without senior forward David Eller, who sat out for the second straight game with 10 stitches in his forehead after suffering the injury against Wooster on Friday.
The Senators will be without another player for the rest of the year- junior forward Wade Smith. Barnes said the 6-footer had violated an unspecified school policy.
"I think we have enough bodies to get the job done," Barnes said. "We just have to find a way to get the guys we have going."
Carson will have a chance to do that Friday, when it travels to Reno to play the first-place Huskies, beginning at 7 p.m.
South Tahoe will travel to play Hug Friday at 7 p.m.