For the second time in three years, the Mayer Lutheran and Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity boys basketball teams will face off in the first round of the Section 2A tournament. The Crusaders and Bulldogs have already met once this season in a game that went down to the wire.
As both teams are set to square off once again, the Bulldogs and Crusaders will add another exciting chapter to the rivalry Monday night.
“We’re really looking forward to playing Mayer Lutheran again,” LP/HT coach Andrew Dahl said. “We had a tight battle at our place in January where they made a few plays late to come out on top. I felt that neither team had their best showing that day, but it was a fun atmosphere and the kids on both teams really battled. ”
The Crusaders got the win the first time around despite battling foul trouble all game long. After a hot start got them out to a lead early, seniors Baden Noennig and Brendan Feltmann both fouled out on back-to-back plays with just under four minutes left to play.
Despite losing their two most experienced players, the Crusaders found a way to pull out the win thanks to junior Jacob Pallas. He would go 4-for-4 from the free throw to seal the win for Mayer Lutheran.
That game was played Jan. 12, and both the Bulldogs and Crusaders are different teams coming into this matchup. Mayer Lutheran, a team that takes pride on the defensive end, has had their fair shares of ups-and-downs throughout the season, but defense still remains their calling card.
“It’s just grinding it out,” Mayer Lutheran coach Pat Buchanan said. “I’ve been testing and challenging them with pride heart. This is a game that you got to give all of it to. You just can’t be lackadaisical and be OK with someone scoring. You’ve got to take pride on that end. We take pride on that end.”
For LP/HT, they’ve had more time to work together in Dahl’s new system. The Bulldogs have had their fair share of struggles, as well, but are more than ready for the rematch with the Crusaders. Knowing Mayer Lutheran features a mix of players who can score in bunches, the Bulldogs focus will also be on the defensive end as they try to slow down the Crusaders.
“I feel like we match up fairly well with Mayer Lutheran overall,” Dahl said. “They have a nice mix of kids that drive to the basket well, and some physical guys inside. A couple of our keys will be keeping them out of the paint, and forcing them to take tough shots, as well as holding our own on the glass and rebounding the ball.”
Just because the Crusaders have beaten the Bulldogs once this season doesn’t mean their overlooking LP/HT. Mayer Lutheran needed to grind out that win, and they know the Bulldogs will be ready to give them all they’ve got.
“I expect them to be very gritty,” Buchanan said. “The game is going to be a physical game. This time, they’re coming over here. Hopefully, in our gym, we play a lot better. Last time we played them, it was our fourth game of the week. Our legs were dead. I respect the team and who they are, but we’re ready.”
The Bulldogs have had the whole week off from games and have spent that time getting ready for the Crusaders. LP/HT is hoping that preparation pays off as they look to upend their rival Monday night.
“We will have had a full week off from game play going into Monday, so hopefully, our practice preparation has us coming out ready to go and hitting shots early,” Dahl said. “I’m sure the gym will be packed and rocking on Monday. I can’t wait.”
On the other end, the Crusaders take on the Blake Bears Friday night in one last chance to work some things out on both ends of the floor. Come Monday, the defending Section 2A champions will start their run to try and defend their title, but they also know the Bulldogs will be looking to pull off the upset.
“We have unfinished business coming up starting Monday,” Buchanan said. “We respect Lester Prairie coming in and trying to upset. Why wouldn’t you? That’s what it’s about. Hopefully, we’ll be ready mentally and physically. I know they’re going to come in physically ready to play that game.”
Matchup To Watch
In the first matchup between the Crusaders and Bulldogs, LP/HT was able to do something that not many other teams have been able to this season – slow Noennig down.
The Bulldogs, led by Tyler Scheevel, held Noennig to just seven points in the previous matchup. Although Scheevel gives up almost 10 inches to Noennig, he’s a guy that can slow him down once again with his physical manner and motor.
The goal once again for the Bulldogs will be to slow Noennig down. Scheevel will likely be tagged with that task again, with others mixed in. If LP/HT once again can keep Noennig in check and force others to make plays, the Bulldogs have to like their chances to pull off the win.
For Mayer Lutheran, Noennig has been the go-to scorer all season. The Crusaders do have other players who can help carry the load, though. Feltmann comes in scoring 13 or more points in his last two games, while freshman Teigan Martin is a capable option inside for Mayer Lutheran, as well. Martin was shaken up in the Crusaders’ win against LeSueur-Henderson Tuesday night, but should be ready to roll come Monday night according to Buchanan.
If Mayer Lutheran can get the secondary scoring they need, another win over Bulldogs and a deep postseason run could be in the cards.
For in-game updates on the matchup between the Crusaders and Bulldogs Monday night, follow Herald Journal sports editor Kip Kovar on Twitter.