Epic Battle: Rivals to battle on hardwood tonight
by Bryan Zollman
It’s a rivalry that dates back decades. Back when fans would spill out the doorways, cram onto the stage and fill just about every nook and cranny at either gym in Melrose or Sauk Centre.
It’s a rivalry where fans show up an hour early just so they can get a good seat and so they don’t have to walk a half mile from their car to the gym.
And it’s a rivalry that is still as strong as ever.
When the Sauk Centre and Melrose boys’ basketball teams hit the court tonight at St. John’s University, there will be something special in the air, something that can only be witnessed by those who have experienced this rivalry before.
The winner of the sub-section final could very well earn a trip to the state tournament. The teams, unlike most years, are uncharacteristically even. There are no superstars on either team, just hard-nosed gritty players who match up with each other extremely well.
Consider this: both teams have 18 wins overall and both won 10 games in the conference. They split during the regular season, Melrose winning on their home court by seven points and Sauk winning on theirs by 11. The Dutchmen have averaged 63.5 points on offense and the Mainstreeters have averaged 65.5. Both teams are giving up about 57.7 points per game.
“This rivalry is great“ said Streeter head coach Mike Ellens. “Two towns eight miles apart and the kids all grow up playing against each other in every sport. They know us and we know them so there never seems to be any surprises.”
The Mainstreeters are having one of their best seasons in recent history. After graduating two 1,000-point scorers from a year ago (Nick Adams and Patrick Knoblauch) they have relied more on a balanced offense and a physical and stingy defense.
Melrose is, well, similar. They graduated 3-point specialist Scottie Stone and now also rely on a balanced offensive attack.
“Both our teams pride themselves on the defensive end and sharing the ball on offense,” said Melrose head coach Ryan Dusha. “We both have teams that can put five guys on the floor who can put the ball in the basket and that puts a lot of pressure on the defenses.”
Ellens said in order for the Streeters to be successful they will have to keep the Dutchmen from getting too good of looks from the three-point line and keep them from getting out on the fast break.
In their loss at Melrose, Melrose’s leading scorer Seth Noll lit up the Streeters in the first half.
Melrose said they will have to rebound better than they did in the previous two games and limit their live ball turnovers.
“You don’t win championships unless you rebound the basketball especially against a team as physical as Sauk Centre,” said Dusha.
In Melrose’s win they scored early and often when Noll got hot form three-point range. Sauk countered with more of a defensive battle in their victory, holding the Dutchmen to just 42 points.
Both coaches said they don’t know what sort of game to expect…a high-tempo high scoring affair or a more defensive battle.
Whatever the case, chances are its going to be a close game. And one you don’t want to miss.
That’s how rivalries usually end up anyway.
Tip off is at 7:45 p.m..
But like any other match-up against these two rival towns, you might want to get there plenty early.
Melrose - Seth Noll 16.1
Sauk Centre - Josh Buschette 14.0
Melrose - Cesar Cervabtes 99 (3.7 APG)
Sauk Centre - Seth OPtte 73 (2.92 APG)
Melrose - Tyler Braegelman 162 (6.0 RPG)
Sauk Centre - Cole Neubert 127 (5.3 RPG)
Melrose - Seth Noll 67 (2.5)
Sauk Centre - Matthew Moritz 56 (2.3)
Melrose - Seth Noll 73 (37%)
Sauk Centre - Matthew Moritz 38 (34%)
Melrose - Tyler Bragelman 71%
Sauk Centre - Seth Otte 76%
Team FG percentage:
Melrose - 46%
Sauk Centre - 45%
Team 3PT Percentage:
Melrose - 37%
Sauk Centre - 31%
Team FT Percentage:
Melrose - 64%
Sauk Centre - 65%
Melrose - 387
Sauk Centre - 363
5 Things to Watch For:
1 - Seth Noll is Generously listed at 5’9”, but plays much bigger. If he can get hot early like he did against Sauk in Melrose or like he did against Long Prairie in Saturday’s win, then that could make things tough for the Streeters. Noll isn't just a three-point threat. He isn't afraid to drive the lane and draw fouls either.
2 - Josh Buschette is Sauk's leading scorer and is a very athletic player. When he is on he can change the outcome of games.
3 - Adam Jensen and Cole Neubert will play key roles for the Streeters and will be counted on to grab their share of rebounds and control the paint against an undersized Melrose squad.
4 - Officiating: You never know what sort of officials you will run into in Central Minnesota. Some like to swallow their whistle while others like to whistle everything. If they swallow their whistle the game will come down to who shoots better from the flor. If not, then it will likely be determined by who is better at the free throw line.
5 - Big Game Player: While Noll and Buschette lead their teams in scoring, both the Dutchmen and the Mainstreeters have supporting casts that, on any given night, can have a big game. Look for somebody like Cesar Cervantes, Cole Van Beck, Ben Klaphake or Tyler Braegelman hitting some big shots. For the Mainstreeters, look for players like Seth Otte, Matthew Moritz, Neubert, Jensen, Austin Landkammer or Casey Weber to possibly get into double digits. If Sauk gets a good, balanced attack with 3-4 players in the 8 to 14-point range, they will be tough to beat.