It was a whirlwind of activity last week for the Watertown-Mayer boys’ basketball team, which played four games in six days, including an opportunity to play at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
The Royals stayed hot to start the week, but faltered Friday and Saturday, dropping a key home game against Mayer Lutheran in the race for second place in the Minnesota River Conference, as well as Saturday’s Target Center rematch against Litchfield, the same team that beat the Royals on the same floor less than a year ago at the state tournament.
The week started for the Royals with a 54-48 home win over Belle Plaine on Monday, Feb. 18, and continued the next night with a 67-60 road win over Sibley East. Those wins gave the Royals three in a row at time, and seven wins in their last eight tries.
However, back at home on Thursday, Feb. 21, with second place in the conference on the line against rival Mayer Lutheran, the Crusaders used a 3-point barrage in the first half to run away from the Royals for a 74-40 win. On Saturday, Feb. 23, a poor shooting afternoon for the Royals, particularly in the second half, turned into a 60-42 win for Litchfield.
With the 2-2 week, the Royals are now 14-11 overall and 8-5 in the MRC. A win in the final regular season home game Friday night against Norwood Young America would secure third place in the conference for the Royals, though a loss would lift the Raiders, and possibly Belle Plaine as well, into a tie for third.
Royals 54, Belle Plaine 48
Watertown-Mayer coach Bob Hennen said his team was able to break Belle Plaine’s press early and got some easy looks at the basket, helping his team take an early 14-5 lead.
However, Belle Plaine was able to crawl back into the game, and went into halftime tied at 32-32.
“We were not very crisp at the end of the half and could have had the lead,” Hennen said. “Our offense was solid, but the defense gave up four threes and we also allowed nine offensive boards. Considering all that, we were lucky to be tied at the half.”
Belle Plaine took the early second half lead with the first four points, the Royals came back strong. A three from Jacob Wandersee and Caleb Fails and two baskets from Hunter Hulley gave Watertown-Mayer a 44-40 lead.
The Royals led by a single point with about 6 minutes left, but Luke Sandquist took control the rest of the way. He score the team’s final 10 points to put things out of reach.
“He made several great post moves that put the game away, and we played solid defense down the stretch to hold Belle Plaine down,” Hennen said. “We only gave up 16 points in the second half, and we rebounded so much better.
Sandquist finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks. Wandersee had eight points and seven rebounds, Fails had eight points and Jacob Grotbo had eight assists.
“It was a good win to start the week,” Hennen said. “Belle Plaine is a good team and to sweep them gives us some confidence to close out the season.”
Royals 67, Sibley East 60
Sibley East turned what once was a 21-17 deficit into a 40-27 first half lead, but the Royals used some hot shooting to regroup in the second half and pull out an important road win that could be important for seeding ramifications.
The Royals were able to trim the deficit to seven points by halftime, 40-33, and after Sibley East scored the first basket of the second half, the Royals got hot from the outside. Grotbo and Wandersee both hit two threes and Barna Berenyi hit another as Watertown-Mayer surged ahead, 52-50.
With the scored tied at 60 and less than a minute to play, Sandquist converted on a conventional three-point play, and after a defensive stop, Wandersee sank a pair of free throws for the Royals. Grotbo added two more free throws after another defensive stop to secure the win for the Royals.
Sandquist had 15 points and 15 rebounds, while Wandersee led the team in the scoring column with 20 points. Grotbo had 12 points and six assists and Berenyi had eight points and six assists.
LHS 74, Royals 40
Mayer Lutheran clinched second place in the Minnesota River Conference with the win over the Royals, using an incredible barrage of 3-point shots in the first half to run away from the Royals late in the first half.
“Obviously it was a disappointing night,” Hennen said. “We did not play well. Mayer played outstanding and shot unbelievable from three. … Mayer just pulled away at the end of the half and we could do nothing to stop them. Their shooting was some of the best I have seen in years.”
Sandquist had 13 points to lead the Royals offensively.
Litchfield 60, Royals 42
The Royals enjoyed an early lead for a good portion of the first half in a matchup against Litchfield at the Target Center, but allowed the Dragons to take a small, two-point halftime lead.
The Royals struggled to generate any offense in the second half. Sandquist was a force inside, with the Royals feeding him the ball as often as possible. However, the Royals were ice cold from the outside, possibly due to tired legs playing their fourth game of the week and their second in about 18 hours.
“We did not necessarily play a bad game,” Hennen said. “We just did not make shots against their zone.”
Sandquist had 20 points to lead the Royals and Wandersee had 13.
Contact Matt Bunke at email@example.com