NRHEG's big three help Panthers fend off Maple River
Mankato – In the last three meetings this season, the NRHEG boys basketball team beat Maple River a combined 207-143.
While Thursday night's 2AA Sub-Section semifinal game may have not been the Panthers’ prettiest performance, they were able to get the job done.
Guided by four-straight Oakley Baker free throws in the final seconds, the second-seeded Panthers (26-2) managed to fend off a resilient Eagles (21-8) squad 48-44 at Mankato East.
“It’s awesome,” commented Panthers’ center Tyler Raimann. “They’ve ended our season too many times for us not to be smiling like this.”
Head coach Pat Churchill added to the comments of his senior center, saying “I’m just so proud of these kids. Just battling through and beating that team four times this year after we’ve lost our last six to them. That’s just a credit to them.”
The Panthers managed to jump out to a commanding 10-0 lead after making five of their first seven shots. Much of the run came from the hands on dominating big man Tyler Raimann, who scored the first three points of the game. He would finish with 10 for the contest.
The Eagles on the other hand, were held scoreless for the first seven minutes of the game as they struggled to generate any offensive rhythm against NRHEG’s smothering defense. In fact, Maple River wouldn’t score its first bucket of the game until the 10:19-mark of the first half.
Then, the gym started to shift to the Eagles’ favor. In the final six minutes of the half, the Panthers went ice cold, missing their next five shots while Jeff Lewis guided Maple River to a 10-2 run to end the half. Lewis finished with a game-high 18 points.
“I told our kids ‘keep plugging. There’s a long way to go. It’s a one-point game. Just relax,” Churchill noted about his talk to his team at the half. “We’re going to hit some shots and we're going to do some good things.”
Trailing 16-15 to start the second half, the Panthers came out firing.
Baker connected on a deep three-pointer at the top of the point they help ignite a 4-0 run. But, like a mere image of the first half, the Eagles managed to regroup and generate another 10-2 run to regain a 27-24 lead.
Enter Benji Lundberg.
After registering just two points in the first half, the junior would explode for 14 points in the second half for a team-high 16 points. Three of those 14 came on a deep trey to knot the game at 27. In fact, Lundberg would score 10 of NRHEG’s next 12 points.
“It’s awesome,” added Raimann on playing with Lundberg. “If me and Oakley can’t hit anything, if I can’t finish, he comes in and takes all the pressure off of us and that’s what matters.”
The third element of NRHEG’s big three came up when the game matter most.
With 15 seconds on the clock and holding a 44-42 lead, Baker was sent to the line after being intentionally fouled. He would sink both attempts from the line. After a pair of successful free throws from Maple River's Ethan Sindelir - cutting the lead to 46-44 - Baker was again intentionally sent to the line.
The St.John’s commit would ice the game for good, sinking the final two free throws with 3.6 seconds left. Baker finished the game with 11 points.
The second-seeded Panthers will play fourth-seeded Fairmont Monday at MSU-Mankato in the South's Sub-Section championship game.