The Comets pent up energy for their home opener exploded on the court Monday night. Hillcrest smothered the Pelican Rapids Vikings, who looked surprised to see Hillcrest leap to a double-digit lead with 16 minutes to go in the first half. The Vikings' first trip to the bench in a time-out would be one of many that left Pelican scratching their heads as they worked to find a hole in the Comet line while Hillcrest started their march to a 74-54 victory.
Hillcrest entered the gym on the heels of the passing of a close friend and spiritual leader on campus. Hayley Filippini passed away last week after a battle with cancer, and the stands were sparse as many cheering leaders ventured to Hayley's home to celebrate her life and testimony with close friends and family. The Comet players wore t-shirts made earlier this year in support of Hayley. When the shirts came off to display their Comet jerseys there was a clear resolve on the face of the Comets. Their game last week didn't go as planned. It was sloppy and they relied on their athleticism to pull out a victory. Monday night, things were different.
Quick passes and aggressive defense opened lanes for Hillcrest's back court. Kyler Newman ran the tables, passing the ball around and directing traffic as he allowed the offense to move and open the floor. As Pelican grew accustomed to Newman pointing and moving his arms they sat on their heels. That's where Newman strikes best.
With the weight shifting back in the Viking defense Newman took quick steps in dribbling. His one-two step and dribble forced the Vikings to over compensate in their movement, allowing Newman to see clear passing lanes and attack the rim. Through the first half Newman exploited the Vikings, scoring 11 points quickly as the Comets setup their defensive front.
With the Comets shifting to defense the Vikings found more frustration. There wasn't a shot that went up in the first five minutes that wasn't contested for the Vikings. Hillcrest came to play. The Comets seamlessly switched on screens as the Vikings worked to create separation to open a lane for a shot or look inside. When the Vikings would cast a shot, there wasn't a second opportunity. Hillcrest dominated the glass, forcing stat takers to lean to the Comet side of the book throughout the night. Hillcrest pulled down 13 rebounds on defense, compared to one lonely offensive rebound for the Vikings. In the second half, the Vikings didn't record a single offensive rebound.
Junior Colin Erickson was tasked with bodying up the Viking post players, a favorite target for Pelican Rapids. Erickson picked-up his 3rd foul after 10 minutes, but his strong effort in the paint opened rebounding opportunities for the Comets. Erickson was fueled by the stifling defense, contributing 8 points to Hillcrest twenty point halftime lead, 46-26.
Senior Tommy Thompson was the Comets' top scorer in the first half. Thompson found seams opened by crisp passing and strong drives by the Comet guards. Thompson had 13 points in the first half, finishing the game with 14 as the Comets settled in to work on their defense in the second half.
When Hillcrest came out of the locker room to start the second half there was a clear resolve to finish the game strong. The Vikings weren't going to go down easily, adjusting their game plan to the Comets' clear control of the paint.
The Vikings found shooting equally hard to come by in the second half. After going 6-for-21 in the first, Pelican Rapids was hard pressed to get a good look at the basket in the second half, going 8-for-19 inside the arc. Retreating to the three-point line, Pelican was 6-for-11 for the night.
With the game well in hand Preston began mixing up the lines on his bench. Shifting starters in with the deeper side of the bench, Preston saw his team continue their collapsing defensive front. Hillcrest forced 21 turnovers on the night, coming away with 15 steals as a team.
Draining his bench of 12 players, Preston saw the scoring diminish as he focused his team to play disciplined defense and patient offense. Both teams scored 28 points in the second half, after Hillcrest put up 46 before being leashed to execute Preston's controlled game plan.
Kyler Newman led all scoring with 19 points. Tommy Thompson contributed most of his 14 points in the first half, while Sean McGuire chipped in 12 and Collin Erickson put in 10 for the Comet big men.
With the win, Hillcrest moves to 2-0, playing conference rival Parkers Prairie Tuesday night at 7:15pm at the Hillcrest Student Activities Center.