The Comets had Thursday night circled on their calendar. Coach Preston, kneeling in the huddle before the start of the game, drew a smile from the players as his words caught their attention. The gym was packed and the playoff atmosphere present.
Battle Lake has been ranked in the top 5 teams in Minnesota for most of the year. Hillcrest has moved into the top 20. With a tough defensive battle set to take place, the first half was a testimony to two well-coached teams. Battle Lake strikes quickly, moving the ball in precision to execute quick and decisive scores. The Comets wear teams down. Methodical passing and consistent ball control creates open shots. The 31-20 half-time score reflected the patient pace of the game, with Battle Lake leading going into intermission.
Battle Lake Head Coach Dan Peterka noted, "Hillcrest played very patient basketball I thought. We defended well deep into possessions the entire night." Hillcrest Coach Gregg Preston agreed, "It was a hard fought defensive struggle tonight, and the Battlers controlled the game from the tip throughout most of the night."
Into the second half, Peterka called a time out to recognize Petric VanErp's 1,000th career point. As the game progressed the athleticism and precision play for the Battlers left little room for the Comets to strike. Peterka noted, "Offensively, we executed fairly well against their strong defense and were able to get the ball in position to score." Coach Preston highlighted a few adjustments that were made, but found Battle Lake to be too strong Thursday, “Battle Lake was much more aggressive on the boards and their half-court defense took away our penetration to the basket, cuts in the paint and we settled for less than great looks at the basket. I thought that our on ball and help defense was a bit better in the second half.”
Battle Lake traveled home with a well-earned 54-34 win. Andrew VanErp contributed 18 points, his brother Petric added 12 points and 6 rebounds, while Tony Ukkelberg steadied the team with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
The Comets shot 33% on the night, a testimony to the Battler defense. The Comets were led by Chris Tungseth (13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) and Jake Isaac (9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
Battle Lake improves to 13-1; 6-0 in the conference. Hillcrest drops to a respectable 10-2; 4-2 in the conference.