MAYER – Patience has been the key for Mayer Lutheran’s Jacob Pallas. After breaking his ankle in a scrimmage before the season, the senior point guard has waited for his time to return and it’s paying off big time for the Crusaders. With Pallas back, Mayer Lutheran gets an instant spark on both ends of the floor and it was on full display in a 66-46 victory over Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity Saturday night.
“He’s the leader of this team,” Mayer Lutheran coach Pat Buchanan said. “He’s hands-down the leader of this team. He’s been showing it since he’s been back at practice, and in these two games, he’s definitely showed it. It’s what he does verbally, but also what he does with his actions, as well. The way he plays is contagious. He plays hard, so everyone plays hard. He’s poised, so everyone becomes more poised. It’s been phenomenal to have him back.”
The Crusaders came out firing, jumping out to a 9-0 lead at the start. Pallas’ return certainly gave Mayer Lutheran a spark as he scored seven-straight points for his team to give them a 17-6 lead.
“It’s amazing,” Pallas said about being back on the floor. “Everything is just gelling for the team right now. It’s huge to see the impact that I can make for this team. That makes me really happy and proud.”
It was a slow start for the Bulldogs, who couldn’t match Mayer Lutheran’s energy early on. LP/HT found themselves down double digits in a hurry, but crawled their way back into it.
“They play hard,” LP/HT coach Andrew Dahl said. “They play tough. We knew that coming in. We weren’t ready to answer the challenge from the opening tip. We got down early, but then we fought our way back and battled. We proved that we can play that kind of basketball. We just ran out of gas at the end.”
Mayer Lutheran took a 32-21 lead into the locker room, but it could have been even worse for LP/HT if it wasn’t for Evan Lee. The senior scored 14 of LP/HT’s 21 points in the first half, keeping them within striking distance.
“We needed Evan to step up and score for us,” Dahl said. “We struggle at times against pressure defense to get open looks. He was aggressive and looking for his shot either in the paint or outside on jumpers. It was nice to see. As a senior, that’s what you’re looking for as a point guard.”
Down 11 at half, Dahl and the Bulldogs knew how important a quick start to the second half was. It wasn’t just about getting shots to fall, but to be tougher on both ends of the floor.
“We just talked about being strong inside,” Dahl said about the halftime talk. “Going through guys and trying to draw fouls or finish through contact. In the first half, we were shying away a little bit and avoiding contact. We tried to be physical and tough with our drives. A couple of guys stepped up there for a while and kept us in the game.”
The quick start for LP/HT to start the second half got them back into it. With just under nine minutes to go, the Bulldogs trailed 43-39. With LP/HT right back in the game, the Crusaders turned to Teigan Martin inside. The sophomore scored 11-straight points for Mayer Lutheran, helping them pull away from the Bulldogs for good.
“All year long, he’s been consistent,” Buchanan said about Martin. “He’s earned the right to close the game for us. He gets a high-percentage shot, and we know he’s going to make the right decision down there. He’s tough to stop down there. I think that’s where the ball should be. Until somebody stops it, we’re going to keep going there.”
With the loss, LP/HT falls to 12-9 on the season. The 46 points scored in the loss is a season-low for them after averaging 91.3 points per game in their last three games. While the offense struggled, outside of Lee, who finished with a team-high 25 points, Dahl believes his team can get back on track with three big games ahead of them.
“Normally, we’re a pretty balanced team scoring-wise,” Dahl said. “Overall, I still have confidence in all of our guys. I feel like we can bounce back with a couple tough games coming up this week.”
The final stretch of the regular season will be huge for the Bulldogs as they look to improve their case for a better seed.
“We want to finish strong,” Dahl said. “We want to prove that we’re in that next mix after BOLD and New Ulm Cathedral. We’re kind of in that next tier, and we need to win games like this if we want to get that first-round home game.”
For Mayer Lutheran, they know their overall record of 8-13 isn’t impressive by any means. That doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to show what they can do down the stretch and in the postseason.
“Going down the stretch, the record isn’t that great, but we know what we’re capable of,” Pallas said. “We’re showing little glimpses of it, but once it all comes together, we’re going to be a really good team.”
“We’re going to run with it,” Buchanan added. “It’s one day a time and one game at a time. Pallas transforms this team. If we had him all year, we don’t know what it could have been. We have him now and we’re going to take advantage of it.”