Improving Lake Forest boys hoop team aims for state tourney berth

FELTON — Lake Forest High had a real chance to knock off Concord on Monday night.

In a low-scoring boys’ basketball contest, the Spartans led the Raiders by nine points at halftime.

But coach Mike Starkey doesn’t know if his players honestly believed they were going to win.

“We fight ourselves as much as anything,” he said. “Their mindest is, ‘I’m not sure if we’re supposed to come upstate and beat them.’”

Sure enough, Concord rallied in the second half, walking off the court with a tough, 42-41 victory.

Senior Cameron Lewis has been one of Lake Forest’s top scorers. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

On the other hand, Lake Forest bounced back on Tuesday night to down Delmar, 63-35, in a Henlopen South matchup. That victory leaves the Spartans with a respectable overall record of 6-5.

A couple years ago, that record would have looked really good. Between 2013-15, Lake Forest went a combined 12-48, never winning more than six games in a season.

After going 10-10 last winter, however, the Spartans are ready for more.

“I think we’re proving we’re better than what we’ve been,” said junior co-captain Lester Fair. “But we’ve got to keep on working to get better.”

When Lake Forest topped Milford, 43-38, on Dec. 15, it marked the first time the Spartans had downed the Buccaneers since at least 2007. Milford had won at least 14 straight in the rivalry.

For a program that hasn’t made the DIAA state tournament since 2011, progress is measured by accomplishments like that sometimes.

“That was a big one,” said Desaun Bizzell, another junior co-captain. “It gives us energy, it gives us hope. It lets us know that we’re closer to the goal that we’re trying to achieve — the big one.”

Lake Forest coach Mike Starkey picked up his 200th coaching win Tuesday night. (Delaware State News file photo)

That big goal is getting Lake Forest back in the state tournament.

A year ago, the Spartans just missed making the tourney, perhaps being knocked out of a tourney spot when it fell to Laurel, 65-56, in their season finale.

Still, coming close left Lake Forest with plenty of motivation coming into this season.

The Spartans have won three of their last four games going into a big matchup at Cape Henlopen on Friday night.

“It was frustrating knowing we were that close and didn’t get to the goal that we wanted to achieve,” said Bizzell. “Through the off-season, it gave us the fire to work harder to come back this season and get some things done.”

One thing the Spartans did accomplish was getting Starkey his 200th coaching win on Tuesday night.

While this is the only his second year at Lake Forest, the 42-year-old Starkey spent 14 seasons as the head coach at Smyrna.

The Spartans were excited to get the milestone victory for their coach.

“He’s a great coach and an amazing person,” said Fair. “It was important that we could be a part of his history.

“He doesn’t settle for anything — it’s hard to satisfy him. That pushes us harder.”

At Smyrna, Starkey helped turn the Eagles into perenial state tournament contenders. But it didn’t happen overnight.

The Felton native doesn’t expect that kind of thing to happen instantly at Lake Forest, either.

“I see a lot of similarities,” said Starkey. “When I went into that Smyrna deal, we were pretty bad. I found it takes a few years to change that culture. You have to instill the habits and attitude before you get it going.

“I struggle with patience every day. I want to win now. Sometimes we’re just not quite ready to win.

“We’ll do some good things and then we’ll revert back to some really bad habits,” he added. “We’re just fighting that consistency part of things.”

In the meantime, the Spartans will keep trying to surprise people.

Bizzell, for one, still likes being an underdog.

“We’re always underrated,” he said. “No one picks us to win and then we surprise people. That’s the best feeling.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do in closing out games and finding out how to win big ones. But we’re getting there.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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