Crusaders down Bulldogs in playoff opener

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The hot ticket on Monday night was in Mayer, where fans packed the stands for a Section 2A playoff game between No. 3 Mayer Lutheran and No. 6 Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house as the Crusaders and Bulldogs battled in a closely-contested matchup.

“It was intense,” said McHayl Diedrick. “It was so loud.”

“Our fans were amazing,” said Garrett Tjernagel. “They brought it. They picked up on our enthusiasm and carried us through the game.”

With the crowd behind them, the high-flying offense of Mayer Lutheran got started early. Tjernagel got to the rim early, pouring in the Crusaders first eight points.

“Garrett played like a beast out there,” Diedrick said. “Grabbing boards, making those reverse layups – he was putting in work down low.”

After buckets from Kobey Woolhouse and Diedrick, the Crusaders led 14-7, but the Bulldogs fought back.

Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity peeled off an 8-0 run to take the lead. Trailing for the first time, Baden Noennig stepped up for the Crusaders, attacking the rim for seven consecutive points. While Noennig stopped the bleeding, the Bulldogs still held a slim lead.

Not wanting to go into the break behind the Bulldogs, Diedrick ended the half with a monster push. The senior ripped off eight straight points by attacking the rim, hitting a mid range jumper and connecting at the free throw line.

“McHayl played awesome,” Tjernagel said. “That first half, when we needed it, he just put us all on his back and carried us through.”

The run led by Diedrick put Mayer Lutheran up 34-31 at halftime.

In the second half, Diedrick, Noennig and Tjernagel continued to hammer away inside. The constant drives to the rim put several Bulldogs in foul trouble while allowing the Crusaders to extend their lead.

Mayer Lutheran led by as much as 13 in the second half, but the Bulldogs refused to go away, cutting the lead down to three with under a minute remaining.

“Down the stretch they hit some crazy shots,” said Diedrick. “They played a good game.”

“They fought well, we just came out on top,” Tjernagel said.

Though the Bulldogs cut into the lead, a couple of players off the bench delivered at the free throw line for Mayer Lutheran. Branden Carslon came in to make five of his six attempts at the line while Matt Menth went two for two to cement the win.

“Our bench was amazing,” Tjernagel said. “The people we called up off the bench just picked it up when we needed it. They played their hearts out.”

The Crusaders went on to win the matchup 62-55, sending them on to face No. 2 Cleveland March 9 in St. Peter.

Baden Noennig led the Crusaders with 17 points, while Diedrick added 14 and Tjernagel scored 13 – mostly on reverse layups in the post.

“It’s kind of a move I came up with, it just seems to work on some kids,” he said. “That’s my go to. If it doesn’t work, there’s usually someone there to dish to.”