MAYER – Come playoff time, there’s no holding anything back. That’s just what the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team did just that as they shook things up defensively against rival Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity. Primarily a team that plays man-to-man, the Crusaders used a variety of zone defenses in the second half to slow the Bulldogs down just enough as they kept their season alive with a 61-50 victory in the Section 2A North quarterfinals Monday night at home.
“I wanted to mix things up,” Mayer Lutheran coach Pat Buchanan said. “You might see things you’ve never seen from us before. This will be fun. This is what we coach our tails off for.”
“It’s new for us,” senior Baden Noennig added. “We’re usually a man-to-man team. It seems to work, so I guess we’ll keep trying it.”
The Bulldogs, the No. 6 seed in the Section 2A North, came out strong and gave the Crusaders all they could handle. Zach Jackson made his first two 3-point attempts, and Evan Lee made his first one as the Bulldogs came out rolling.
“I felt like we were ready coming out,” LP/HT coach Andrew Dahl said. “We hit some shots early, and that kind of got us going. We hit a couple of cold stretches here and there, but they’re a good defensive team. We weren’t expecting to get open or easy looks all night long. Zach and Evan stepped up for sure early.”
In a back-and-forth first half, Mayer Lutheran took a five-point lead into the locker room. The Crusaders’ lead at the half should have been more, but thanks to poor free throw shooting, along with great defense by Tyler Scheevel and the rest of the Bulldogs, LP/HT found themselves right in it.
“He’s tough,” Noennig said about being defended by Scheevel. “I think he wrestles cattle and stuff. He’s so strong, and a really good defender. Their whole team just plays extremely hard. It was a good hard-fought win for us.”
To start the second half, Buchanan dug into his bag of tricks. The Crusaders went zone the rest of the game, forcing the Bulldogs to beat them from deep. The zone worked early on, allowing Mayer Lutheran to extend their lead to double digits for the first time in the game at 45-35.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Noennig said. “They always play their best game against us. They’re a really good team. We both played hard. It was a hard-fought game all around. We knew it was going to be a game of runs. Once we got on that run, we just wanted to stay with it. We just felt really good when we got on top, so we tried to keep it there. It’s tough and the pressure is on. We did better late in the game, and that’s all that matters. A win is a win. It’s going to be ugly. A win is a win.”
While it looked as if the Crusaders had gained control of the game for good, there was no quit in the Bulldogs. Despite hitting a brutal cold stretch when LP/HT couldn’t get a shot to fall, they kept fighting. Jackson and Parker Bayerl hit back-to-back 3-pointers, bringing the Bulldogs within five with just under six minutes left to play.
“We have a lot of leaders that don’t get down when things are going bad,” Dahl said. “We rally the troops and make sure we keep getting good shots. A lot of that is on the seniors and having that mindset that we need up there. They’re not out of it, no matter what the score is.”
For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, March 8 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.