MMCRU boys rally to avenge loss to Akron-Westfield
REMSEN — After their last two meetings went into overtime, it was another game that went down to the wire as the MMCRU boys basketball team hosted Akron-Westfield on Tuesday. The Royals had lost each of those previous two meetings, but were able to come away with a 54-51 win in this contest.
Both coaches said it has been a competitive series as of late.
“The second time we played them last year was an overtime game, when we played them in December it was an overtime game,” A-W Head Coach Chad Clay said. “Then this one, a one-possession game. We’re two fairly equal teams as far as just a skill point of view and a size point of view. We’re really equal in that regard. We just kind of bring out the best in each other where it’s always a tight game. We’re pretty evenly matched.”
It was a similar thought from the other side.
“You just kind of have those teams, and Akron is that for us,” MMCRU Head Coach Cam Kuchel said. “I think especially our juniors and their juniors, their junior class is very talented, and our juniors and their juniors have seen each other at tournaments all these years. They’ve seen each other in high school for three years now. They’ve both been playing since they were freshmen. They just understand each other really well, they understand how each other play and it’s always a good battle. It’s nice to come out on top.”
In the first half, the Westerners appeared they would be able to easily sweep the regular season series after winning the War Eagle Conference counting game 56-52 the month before. The Westerners jumped out to a 30-19 lead by halftime.
“We had a pretty good first half, scored 30 in the first half, held them to 19, so right where we wanted to be,” Clay said. “I feel like we got some pretty good looks and moved the ball pretty well. In the second half, they went 1-3-1 on us and it kind of threw us out of a rhythm offensively.”
The second half favored the Royals as they worked their way back into the game.
Kuchel said a defensive switch helped to spark the comeback.
“We switched to a 1-3-1 zone and it bothered them a little bit,” Kuchel said. “They scored less than 10 points in that third quarter and we made a nice little run. Brayson Mulder at the top did a nice job forcing them one way or the other. We did a great job crashing the rebounds and getting some hands on some passes and having some easy buckets on the other end.”
A layup from Kyler Bork led to an A-W timeout with the score at 33-26 in favor of the Westerners with 4:30 left in the third quarter. Just a few minutes later the Westerners were forced to use another timeout at the 1:58 mark as a fadeaway from Michael Peterson, who finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, pulled the game to within a possession at 35-33. The make followed a layup from Brayson Mulder who ended with 10 points in the game.
A baseline drive for Lucas Braun tied the score before the Westerners pulled back in front with a basket from Jackson Marnach and a steal and layup for Laytin Koch.
A mid-range shot from Braun made it a 39-37 game entering the final quarter.
The Westerners scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to pad their cushion, but the Royals were able to make some key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help them close the deficit. Kyler Bork, who went scoreless in the first half, ended as the leading scorer for the Royals with 12 points and had a pair of 3-pointers in the final frame. Jonah Petersen added another 3-pointer during the rally.
“Our shooting percentages all year have been poor, and I still don’t think tonight was a fantastic shooting percentage night, but better than it has been,” Kuchel said as his team shot 40 percent overall from the field and from 3-point range.
The Royals took the lead with a pair of free throws from Mitchell Schnepf with 2:10 left in the game, the last of his nine points while adding nine rebounds. Bork made both of his with about 30 seconds left to extend the lead to 54-51. MMCRU missed out on chances to get to a two-possession game with free throw misses from Gunnar Johnson and Schnepf in the final 15 seconds, part of an overall 14-of-26 showing at the free-throw line for the team, but the Royals were able to run out the clock for the win.
“What I like to see is that we shot some free throws,” Kuchel said. “We struggle getting to the line. That tells me we’re getting it inside and looking to attack and be more aggressive on the offensive end which we’ve been preaching for awhile. It was good to see it finally happen.”
The Westerners went cold the final three minutes of the game as they stayed stuck on 51 points. For the game, they were led by Laytin Koch’s 18 points which included three made shots from the perimeter. Tatum Wilken was the team’s other player in double digits with 14 points. Jackson Marnach and Kasey Nielsen added six points apiece, but Clay said the Royals did a good job of limiting the opportunities in the paint as Marnach’s run of four consecutive games of finishing with a double-double were stopped.
“They did a good job on him defensively,” Clay said. “He has been playing really well on both ends of the floor for us the last four or five nights. I thought they just made some defensive adjustments and they made it tough on him. They’ve got some big bodies inside that pushed him off his spots and made it tough for him to score.”
The Westerners fell to 3-10 with the loss. Clay said the main takeaway from the loss is closing out games.
“With being up 11 at half, we need to do a better job of valuing the ball, playing with better discipline and getting stops defensively,” Clay said. “Just closing out some of the opponents and finding a way to win in tight games.”
The Royals improved to 4-7 with the win. Kuchel said he hopes his team can begin to string together even more wins as the team enters the final weeks of the regular season.
“I think we can use this momentum to turn into another battle,” Kuchel said.