The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 28, 2012

Maple River advances to finals of Pepsi Tournament

The Free Press

MANKATO — If the Maple River is going to successfully defend its Pepsi Holiday Tournament boys basketball title, it’s off to a pretty good start.

After downing Mankato Loyola 60-31 in Thursday’s opening round, the Eagles came back with a convincing 73-57 win over Valley Conference rival Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial on Friday. The Eagles put away the game at Bethany Lutheran College’s North gym early, building a 42-18 lead by halftime.

The teams were tied at 11 in the opening frame before Maple River went on a 23-0 run to all but clinch the victory. LCWM outscored Maple River 39-31 over the final 18 minutes but never seriously threatened to get back in the game.

“I think we just started playing defense the way we know how and that sparked our offense,” Maple River’s 6-foot-4 senior center Brian Doering said of the 23-0 surge. “We hit some 3s, we got the ball inside and we got our transition game going. We rebounded pretty well the whole game, too.”

By the time the first-half ended, the Eagles’ Jaron Denn had 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Ben Larson had 10 points with two more 3s and Doering had eight points.

The second half was mostly back and forth. LCWM cut the lead to 19 points on Sam Krahling’s 11-foot jumper, but the Knights never got any closer until the final minute when Nick Thul hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Mason Jones connected on a free-throw line jumper to end the scoring.

“We started slow (in the first half) so we had to call a timeout to try to get going,” Maple River head coach Chad Ostermann said. “Once we started playing defense, things sort of fell into place for us. We got rolling on both ends and opened up a lead.

“But give Lake Crystal credit, they came out in the second half and did a nice job on us. The found some open shots and hit them and didn’t go away.”

Denn ended up leading all scorers with 23 points. He also had eight rebounds and eight assists.

Larson finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. Doering ended up with 14 points and seven rebounds.

Michael Coates was the leading scorer for LCWM with 16 points.

Maple River plays for the tournament championship at 8:30 p.m. today in Bethany’s North gym.