Royal boys pick up two tough conference road wins

The Watertown-Mayer boys’ basketball team gutted out a pair of close wins on the road last week, including a thrilling 60-59 overtime win over Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, when Barna Berenyi hit a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to give the Royals the win on Jan. 29. The Royals also defeated Belle Plaine, 59-48, on Thursday, Jan. 31.

Royals 60, HLWW 59

In the overtime win over HLWW, the Lakers took an early lead in overtime before the Royals tied the game in the final minute. The Royals forced a turnover, but instead of taking the lead, they turned it over themselves and committed a loose ball foul in the open court with less than 5 seconds left.

HLWW made one of two free throws to give the Lakers the lead. However, on the inbounds, Mark Sandquist threw the ball down the court to Berenyi, who took two dribbles before pulling up for the game-winner jumper.

“It was a great win for us,” Watertown-Mayer coach Bob Hennen said. “Beating a good team on their home court is a big momentum boost.”

The Royals didn’t come out of the gates well in the first half, and found themselves trailing by 13 points at one point. However, the Royals managed to cut the deficit to eight by halftime, and Hennen said Sandquist’s 12 points in the half were key to keeping it close.

“We had no flow on offense, and we did not consistently execute our defensive plan,” Hennen said. “Mark really kept us in it when we were really struggling.”

Hennen said his team being able to cut the deficit to single digits by halftime was huge, and allowed his team to mount a comeback in the second half. The Royals didn’t waste much time, coming out of the locker room on a 16-4 run to take the lead. Watertown-Mayer led for much of the half, but was never able to push the lead much past four or five points. That allowed the Lakers to come back and tie the game in regulation, and even had a chance to win it if not for a defensive stop by the Royals.

Mark Sandquist led the team with 14 points, while Luke Sandquist had 13 and Caleb Fails had 10. Berenyi added 10 points and Hunter Hulley had six.

Royals 51, Belle Plaine 48

Seventeen points from Jacob Wandersee and 15 points and eight rebounds from Fails helped the Royals knock off one of the Minnesota River Conference’s better teams on the road.

While both teams came out flat early, a late burst over the final six minutes of the first half gave the Royals a 28-19 lead. Hennen said that run was largely fueled by the play of guard Brandon Kuntz.

“The run was led by Brandon Kuntz coming in and really pushing the tempo for us,” Hennen said. “He got us out in transition and found shooters.”

Those shooters were Wandersee and Fails, who both hit two 3-pointer as part of that run. Luke Sandquist sat out much of the first half with two falls, so Hennen said the ability to build that halftime lead was encouraging.

“For us to be leading at the half was a good sign,” he said.

Belle Plaine slowly cut into the lead into the second half, but was never able to tie the game or the take the lead. Wandersee and Fails each connected from long range once again to keep the Tigers at bay, and Hulley, Kuntz and Berenyi all hit big shots as well.

The Tigers still had a chance to tie the game late, but missed a 3-pointer that gave the Royals the win.

“I thought it was huge that we never let them get the lead or tie,” Hennen said. “We had a lot of guys banged up or in foul trouble, so to gut out the win was huge for us.”

Mark Sandquist added seven points and five rebounds for the Royals, while Kuntz had five assists and five rebounds. Berenyi also had five rebounds and four points.

Up next

The Royals were also in action Tuesday when they hosted Tri City United, and they will return to the court for parents night on Friday, Feb. 8, when they host LeSueur-Henderson at 7:30 p.m.

The Royals will also host Rockford at 7:30 p.m. On Tuesday, Feb. 12, a game that will serve as a cancer fundraiser, along with the girls game on Friday, Feb. 15 against Mayer Lutheran.

Entering this week, the Royals were back over .500 at 9-8 overall. The Royals were also 3-4 in the MRC, good for sixth place.

Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]