There was a clear takeaway from Monticello’s sixth victory Tuesday night. Sure, that could be used to describe any one of the numerous steals that Monticello’s pressure defense caused. But no, that takeaway is this – for the second straight year, and despite graduating five contributing seniors, the Section 5AAA title runs through Monticello.
The host Magic used 34 points from it’s starting backcourt to beat last year’s section runner-up Dassel Cokato 52-45, controlling the game throughout. Coach Craig Geyen said the game represented a big early season measuring stick for his team.
“It’s huge to get out there and see where we stack up,” said Geyen. “And if we can, put a team away by ten and just say ‘hey, we’re still on top, and it’s our section.’ ”
Last year the section final was a close battle throughout, going down to the final seconds. This time around, Monticello jumped out to an early lead and didn’t look back – at least not until the game’s waning minutes.
Within ten minutes, Monticello had established themselves as the team to beat, at least in this game.
They handled the Chargers press with ease and used it to create transition buckets. Strong defense combined with that transition offense, led by Grace Sawatzke’s 10 early points, got Monticello out to a 17-6 lead 10 minutes in.
When Monticello was forced into a half court set for the remainder of the half the offense started to cool down. But then, Gabby Laimer heated up.
Laimer hit two three-pointers in three possessions and added a layup a couple of minutes later for a personal 8-4 run against DC that extended the lead back out to 25-13, before a Bailey Bechtold turnaround jump shot made it 27-15 at the half.The run also gave Laimer 10 first half points, matching Sawatzke’s total in a half where both were allowed to play to their strengths.
“Gabby has shot the ball very well this year,” said Geyen after the game. “And Grace has been unbelievable in the open court. They feed off of each other.”
Monticello’s offense was slowed once again at the start of the second half, but their defense continued to be there when they needed it. Through the opening five minutes of the half, DC was only able to take three points off of the Monticello lead, despite the Magic scoring just five points.
“Defense is effort,” said Sawatzke. “[We know] our offense will come.”
Tuesday night, it came in spurts. One of those came with the Magic nursing that nine point lead in the second half.
Over the next four minutes, the Magic used a handful of steals to key a 10-0 run that featured six points and an assist for Sawatzke.
“When we’re getting scores in transition, it really boosts our confidence,” said the junior.
Tuesday they had reason to be confident. The 10-0 run gave the Magic a 19 point lead with nine minutes to play.
Some sloppiness down the stretch allowed DC to narrow the margin back down, but it never got closer than six as the Magic put the finishing touches on their sixth – the fifth came in a 64-54 win over Orono last Thursday – win of the young season.
“We’re happy but not satisfied,” said Sawatzke after the game. “We’re excited that we’re 6-1, but no one goes into practice like ‘wooooo we’re 6-1!’ We know there are more games, harder games. Obviously our ultimate goal is the section championship.”
Beating last year’s section runner-up in convincing fashion was a clear way of stating their goals to anyone who is paying attention. Tonight they’ll get a chance to send a repeat statement. Monticello travels to Delano, another of the four teams (along with Big Lake) that Geyen believes can compete for the section championship.
The Magic beat the Tigers in a hard fought section semifinal last year, and Delano returns nearly everyone from that team.
“It’s a huge game,” said Geyen. “Their front line is maybe one of the best front lines we’ll see all year.”
Tip off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Scoring vs. Dassel Cokato: Sawatzke – 20 points, Laimer – 14, Christine Lui – 7 points, Alyssa Lentner – 5 points, Bailey Bechtold – 4 points, Ashlyn Cole – 2 points