By Gary Larson
Mille Lacs County Times
Milaca’s boys basketball team finished regular-season play last week and lost a pair of Granite Ridge Conference, which extended the Wolves’ losing streak to 16 games and dropped the team’s record to 2-21.
The Wolves, who haven’t tasted a victory since Jan. 3 when they defeated Pine City 65-62 in a non-conference at Pine City, get one more chance for another win this season tonight (Thursday) when they travel to Annandale for an opening-round game in the Section 5AA, North Sub-Section Tournament at 7 o’clock.
Milaca is seeded No. 7 in the tournament while Annandale, which finished the regular season 15-10, is seeded No. 2.
“Annandale is a very solid team coming out of the very tough Wright County Conference,” said Milaca Coach Dustin Naumann. “They have a very balanced scoring attack and they are very physical.
“As they always say about the playoffs, it is a new season and anything can happen. I like our chances if we buy into our defensive scheme and focus on valuing every offensive possession which will lead to quality shots..”
In other first-round sub-section games tonight (Thursday), No. 6-seeded Foley is at No. 3-seeded Maple Lake, No. 8-seeded Spectrum is at No. 1-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral and No. 5-seeded Kimball travels to No. 4-seeded Rockford.
The semifinals are Saturday, March 10, at the Howard Lake-Waverly Middle School. Game times are 6 and 8 p.m.
The Section 5AA semifinals are Dassel-Cokato Tuesday, March 13, with the South Sub-Section semifinal at 6 p.m. and the North Sub-Section semifinal game at 8. The Section 5AA title game is Friday, March 16, at St. Cloud State University’s Halenbeck Hall.
Watertown-Mayer was seeded No. 1 and Mayer Lutheran No. 2 in the South Sub-Section.
On Tuesday, Feb. 28, Milaca lost at Mora 62-60 in overtime. On Friday, Princeton completed a season-sweep over the Wolves 61-49 at Milaca.
“In both games we out-rebounded our opponents and had fewer or equal turnovers,” said Naumann. “What both games boiled down to were free throws and defense. We seemed to have lapses with both at times and that resulted in losses.”
At Mora, the Wolves rallied from a 22-20 halftime deficit and led by four points with 11 seconds remaining in the game. But, a three-point basket and a jump shot at the buzzer offset a Milaca free throw and the game went into overtime tied at 57-57. The Mustangs, who tipped the Wolves 73-72 in overtime Jan. 20 at Milaca, outscored Milaca 5-3 in the extra session.
“We had numerous opportunities to put the game away in regulation but we didn’t take advantage of them,” said Naumann.
Senior guard Brandon Kiel paced the Wolves as he scored 32 points and had eight rebounds. He converted 17 of 20 free throws.
Ninth-grader Michael Garber had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Senior forward Josh Cheney scored 16 points for the Mustangs while sophomore forward Greg Mork had 15 points.
The Mustangs defeated Hinckley-Finlayson 72-70 on Thursday, March 1 and lost to Braham 92-47 Friday to finish the regular season 8-18.
Against Princeton, Milaca took a 30-25 halftime lead. However the Tigers rallied for a 36-19 scoring edge in the second half.
“We went into an offensive funk in the second half which also effected our defensive play,” said Naumann. “We gave up too many open looks at the basket and didn’t find our open looks.”
Brandon Kiel led Milaca with 22 points and nine rebounds while sophomore guard Brian Kiel had nine points and five rebounds.
Senior guard Josh Jondahl led the Tigers with 22 points while senior forward John Jedneak had 17 points.
Princeton finished the regular season with a 14-11 record. The Tigers begin Section 7AAA play Friday night at Zimmerman.