Few expected the Comets to go undefeated at home this year. The schedule looked nearly impossible. State contending teams visiting from Battle Lake and Waubun started a path of tough competition visiting from Oak Grove and Breckenridge. But as the Comets entered their gym with a 20-0 record they faced their most formidable challenge Monday night.
Class 2A Minnewaska is peaking as they look to playoffs, and as the Comets walked out of the gym carrying their undefeated banner, one of three teams in the state of Minnesota, they look forward to playoffs. Their hot shooting and tough defense continues to get stronger, noted most definitively after Monday nights 72-60 complete game win.
The first-half looked like a nip-and-tuck battle was to ensue. Hillcrest played Hawley on Saturday and saw their first outside-the-box strategy form against the Comets' high flying scoring. Hawley held the ball at half-court in an effort to stem the tide of the Comet bombers who are dropping a better shooting percentage outside the arc than inside this season.
At times Monday night, Minnewaska looked like they took plays out of the Hawley handbook, slowing the ball down at midcourt in a curl-pass-and-cut starter to their offense. Hillcrest quickly picked-up on the offense, jumping the cuts and redirecting the ball. Kyler Newman dazzled on the defensive side, forcing Minnewaska to pick a side of the floor as they started the offense, neutralizing the quick cut-and-back-door-look offense.
The Comets rose above Minnewaska in the second half, taking 22 defensive rebounds to the offensive side where they found holes in Minnewaska's front. Having settled into an offensive scheme following their game versus Hawley, Hillcrest moved the ball quickly on the perimeter. Touch passes from the wing to the posts created an inside-out movement that Minnewaska struggled to recover from. Sean McGuire was a primary beneficiary, hitting easy layups that propelled him to 19 points on the night.
As Minnewaska hustled to close down McGuire, the defense over pursued on Hillcrest's backcourt. Kyler Newman and Tommy Thompson caused whiplash to Minnewaska's defenders, whose heads turned quickly to ball fakes and quick steps by the guard duo. Newman exploded in the second half, knocking down two three's effortlessly, and breezed by defenders when they committed to stopping his hot shooting. Newman posted a team high 20 points.
Senior Chris Tungseth caused more problems for Minnewaska. Chris completed the Comets' double-digit quad, following Newman and McGuire to post 16 points of his own. Tungseth watched his teammates finish his precision passes for easy layups, earning him a game high 6 assists on the evening.
Hillcrest's guard play was too much for Minnewaska down the stretch. Newman's quick step and the Comets' expert passing created significant distance. On the defensive end Hillcrest looked like they were rolling on chairs, shifting from defenders and closing-out on shooters with a tireless rhythm that disrupted Minnewaska. Passes on the perimeter turned into aimless drives for Minnewaska, who lost the ball 8 times to the Comets in frustration. Chris Tungseth was a primary deviant on defense, reaching to steal the ball a game high 4 times as he provided a solid all-around game for his undefeated Comets.
Hillcrest faces the final test of their season Thursday with a match against state ranked Battle Lake.