After a win over St. Clair and a gritty Minnesota River Conference loss to Watertown-Mayer last week, the Central boys’ basketball team’s record stands at 16-7 with just three regular season games remaining.
The Raiders are tied for fifth place in the MRC, but have a chance to chip away at three teams either on pace or ahead of them before the regular season finale on March 1. Belle Plaine (6-5) was tied with Central in the standings before the two teams met this past Tuesday, and the Raiders also will have a chance to avenge losses to Sibley East and Watertown-Mayer, which are currently fourth and third in the MRC, respectively.
“These last three games are as important for us as any games of the year,” said Raiders head coach Nat Boyer. “This is the time where we do our final jockeying for playoff position and build momentum for the postseason.”
Last week the Raiders defeated St. Clair 78-72 on Tuesday, Feb. 12, and lost 53-45 to Watertown-Mayer on Thursday, Feb. 14.
Central 78, St. Clair 72
A good test for the Raiders in the final stages of the season came against a strong but unfamiliar St. Clair team.
“St. Clair came into the game with a 15-5 record and worked very hard,” said Boyer. “They have some very talented underclassmen and definitely have an opportunity to make some serious noise in their section.”
The Raiders trailed 37-35 at halftime, but pulled ahead with a 43-35 second half to claim the win.
“We did not have our best game of the year. We struggled defensively with our communication, but made some adjustments and our offense carried us through in the end,” said Boyer.
Central had a very strong shooting game, connecting on 56 percent of their shots from the field, including a 60 percent success rate from three-point range (6-10).
The Raiders also had an edge on the boards, pulling down 29 rebounds to St. Clair’s 23, and blocked no fewer than nine shots — eight of them by Luke Marschall.
Tom Messner scored 33 points with seven assists to lead the Raiders in both categories. Marschall added 13 points, a team-high 12 rebounds and five assists.
Taylor Trick chipped in 11 points, and Andrew Cardinal also reached double-figures with 10 points.
“Offensively, anytime you out up 70-plus points in regulation you are doing something right. We had [four] players in double figures, and that always helps,” said Boyer.
Central 45, W-M 53
There were few easy baskets later in the week against Watertown-Mayer, and a choppy, foul-filled game tilted the Royals’ way most of the night.
The Royals maintained a small lead from the opening minutes, going up 26-21 in the first half and finishing with a 27-24 edge in the second half. Both teams shot close to 45 percent from the field, and the Royals had a slight edge in rebounds, 28-27.
“[It was a] very rough and tumble game,” said Boyer. “Watertown-Mayer had our number all night. They played the type of game that we have struggled with all year. That is something we need to continue to improve on if we want to make any noise in the postseason.
“Our ball control was real good for the most part. We struggled on the boards and we gave up too many shots inside. Watertown-Mayer attacked the rim and we did not respond.”
Cardinal led the Raiders with 11 points, and Marschall added 10 points. Groschen led in rebounds with nine.
“This is just another example of how tough the conference and sub-section are this year,” said Boyer.