LESTER PRAIRIE – It was a day to remember for Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity’s Evan Lee for multiple reasons.
For one, the senior point guard for the Bulldogs found out earlier in the day a goal and dream of his was about to become a reality. Lee got the confirmation that he was accepted into the United States Military Academy at West Point, instantly changing his perspective on his future.
“I feel like I have a lot of stress lifted off of me,” Lee said. “I found out I’m going to get to go to the school I wanted today. I got that confirmation today that I’m going to go to West Point. I feel like that took a lot of pressure off me.”
With all the pressure off and his future secured, Lee could simply do what he loves – play basketball. The senior was on fire early, scoring 25 first-half points for the Bulldogs in a huge 73-54 bounce-back win for the Bulldogs against Watertown-Mayer Monday night.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better day,” Lee said. “I think that really fueled how I played tonight. All the pressure was just off me. I just went out there and played.”
Lee’s big first half was just what the Bulldogs needed coming off a tough loss to rival Mayer Lutheran Saturday. With no practice in between games, LP/HT showed their toughness when they needed to most.
“It was fun to see the guys come out ready to play, and play hard right from the opening tip,” LP/HT coach Andrew Dahl said. “After a tough game against Mayer Lutheran, we knew this was a big game. We have the big week ahead of us and we needed to come out strong. It just shows that they wanted this one tonight. We knew we needed to get on a roll again and play better basketball.”
Lee scored the final 14 points of the first half for LP/HT to help lead the Bulldogs to an 11-point lead at the half. While he scored just four points in the second half, W-M had no answers for the Bulldogs as LP/HT was the better team that night.
“They played outstanding,” W-M coach Kent Janikula said. “They cut us up defensively. Lee was fantastic. Other guys stepped up and hit shots. It wasn’t our night. They were just better than us in every facet tonight. They were the better team tonight.”
After struggling to shoot the ball in the loss to Mayer Lutheran, the shots began to fall for the Bulldogs as they knocked down eight in the win over the Royals.
“I think our team is just finding its groove,” Lee said. “We’re learning how to score and how to play together. We started fast. That’s really where we’ve struggled the last few games. Just getting started right away catapulted us to a great game.”
“Evan really got us going tonight,” Dahl added. “He was aggressive, like we wanted him to be. We want him to be in attack mode more as a point guard. To see him get ourselves off to a good start was nice to see.”
LP/HT pushed its lead to 20 in the second half as shots continued to fall. While a 20-point lead in the second half was nothing new to the Bulldogs, they were able to learn from the collapse against Nicollet to close out the Royals this time.
“It was big,” Dahl said. “We had some trouble closing out games earlier in the year. To see us hold on and make some plays when we needed to was really big.”
With the win, LP/HT has now won five of their last six games. With section playoffs right around the corner, the Bulldogs know how important it was to get this win.
“It’s huge because Mayer was a big loss,” Lee said. “We really wanted to get that one. To come back today against Watertown-Mayer, who’s also a really good team, I feel like that really boosts our confidence as a team and really showed that we could be competitive against good teams.”
With just three games left in the regular season, LP/HT is hoping the big win can propel them the rest of the way into the playoffs.
“I think it will,” Lee said. “I feel like this is the start of the run we have to make. We want to be competitive against section teams, and I think we showed that to ourselves tonight. We believe in ourselves and that will help us.”
“We talked about that after the game,” Dahl added. “This is one that can kind of get us rolling. Watertown is a really good team. They’ve beat some good teams this year. They play hard and have a nice mixture of kids. To get these guys was big, and will get us rolling.”
For W-M, the message was simple. Move on and learn from it.
“I told the guys that this is something I hope we can learn from,” Janikula said. “I compared it to football, where you have to wait another week to play. We play tomorrow night, so just have a short memory.”
The Royals have two more conference games this week. While the loss is disappointing for sure, W-M has no time to dwell on it as they look to improve their section seed over the course of the final stretch of the regular season.
“We play Glencoe in, like, 20 hours,” Janikula said. ‘There’s little time to feel sorry for ourselves. We got some big games coming up in the conference that will affect our seeding. If we still achieve our goals come March, we’re not going to dwell on what happened on a Monday night in February.”