NRHEG wins 65-64 thriller for Section 2-AA title to earn program's first state tournament berth
Mankato – In any sport, coaches look to their star players to make the game-changing and often the game-deciding plays.
However, for NRHEG High School’s boys basketball coach Pat Churchill, it was what his star player didn’t do Friday night in the Section 2-AA title game that decided the game.
After a Jordan layup cut the lead to 65-64 with 4.5 seconds left, Panthers forward Oakley Baker held on the ball on the ensuing inbounds, running out to clock to to only only beat Jordan High School, but send NRHEG to the state tournament for the first time in program history.
“That’s just basketball IQ,” commented Churchill. “He just knew that situation and handled it perfectly.”
He continued to add that he doesn’t have the words for this team’s performance and noted that earlier in the year, they kind of wanted a chance to go, but didn’t say it.
“We knew deep down that this was the goal we had and they worked every day for it and its just a great achievement for them,” added Churchill.
Coming into the Section 2-AA title game Friday night, the Panthers knew that the big task was trying to stop Jordan from getting into a rhythm and for the first half they did just that.
Sam Prigge exploded out of the gates, scoring seven of the first 12 points and Baker would add a deep two from the top of the key to give NRHEG an 18-13 midway through the first half. As for Jordan, the Hubmen managed to cut the lead to 16-13 before going ice cold.
In their next six possessions, the Panthers’ defense forced three turnovers and three more highly contested shots. Missing their ensuing two baskets, the Panthers were looking for a spark.
Enter NRHEG’s star sixth man Benji Lundberg.
The explosive guard was just that, tallying eight of NRHEG’s final 10 points to extend the lead to 20-16. Lundberg finished with 14 points.
Holding a 26-23 halftime lead, Prigge started the final half just how he started the game, by nailing a deep three-pointer in the corner to extend the lead to 29-23.
The turning point for the game could easily be the defensive performance put forth by the senior Raimann.
After a monster block on the defensive end, the senior threw down a massive dunk as the Panthers quickly generated a 6-0 run. Raimann arguably played his best half of basketball as a Panther, scoring 13 of his team-high 17 points. He also recorded 9 rebounds.
Things started to turn sour immediately following. After a Hubmen timeout, Jordan implemented an aggressive full court press that forced a pair of turnover. The Hubmen proceeded to quickly cut away at the Panther lead, lowering the deficit to as close as 49-46 with roughly seven minutes left.
“When they came out and started pressing us, we sort of loss our cool a bit and they made a run," added Raimann. "We just needed to cool down and get what we were doing. We ran through it i practice."
Then the defense stepped in.
For the following three minutes, Jordan ran into a shooting slump, failing to register a bucket. While the Hubmen slumped, the Panthers attacked, scoring five-straight to extend the lead to 55-49.
In fact, if not for a foul called on Raimann – which Jimmy Volbrecht converted on both attempts – the Panthers may have ran away with the game.
Volbrecht was the lone bright spot for the Hubmen, scoring a game-high 22 points. One thing that kept Jordan in the game late was the struggles that NRHEG had from the line late. Of their final eight attempts from the line, NRHEG managed 10 points.
The Panthers will open tournament play later in the coming week.