Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
That’s how Saturday night’s 54-47 loss at the hands of Staples Motley left Coach Craig Geyen and the Monticello girls basketball team feeling.
While it is just Monticello’s second loss, to go against ten wins, it was also the second straight year they’ve lost in the championship game of their own holiday tournament, a tournament they’ve never won.
“The girls wanted it, we wanted it,” said Geyen. “It’s just an elusive championship.”
For much of the game, that very championship seemed well within their grasp. That was especially true in the opening minutes when Monticello used baskets from all five starters, and a six of seven start from the field, to jump out to a 15-6 lead just three minutes into the game against the state-ranked Cardinals.
But, when Alyssa Lentner, one of Monticello’s top players all tournament, headed to the bench a minute later with two fouls, the offense stalled out. The Magic went nearly six minutes without scoring, as Staples crawled all the way back to within one.
“Basketball is a big game of runs,” said Geyen. “But we can’t have those lulls.”
Turnovers and quick shots plagued the scoreless stretch for the Magic which would prove costly as Staples took the lead shortly after the drought and never completely looked back.
“Just too many empty possessions,” said Geyen about the first half offense which scored 15 points in the first three minutes, but just 10 points over the next 15 minutes.
At the half, Monticello trailed 28-25.
In the second half, Monticello elected to stick with the zone that had slowed the Cardinals’ run in the first half. This half, they appeared ready for it. Their patient approach led to open jump shot after open jump shot, many of which the visitors knocked down as they extended the lead to 43-35 midway through the second half.
“They do a heck of a job,” said Geyen. “They had a couple kids who were shooting NBA range threes. They were getting good shots on almost every possession.”
Still, the Magic found a way to hang around. The trio of Gabby Laimer, Alyssa Lentner and Grace Sawatzke took turns getting buckets as they slowly pulled Monticello back in the game. When Laimer hit a three with 30 seconds left, Monticello was back within five points and once again within reaching distance of that elusive championship.
But they’d never get all the way there. A three rimmed out on Monticello’s next possession and Staples poured in two free throws, providing the final 54-47 cushion.
It was a loss, but for the Magic it was likely more satisfying than a couple of their wins that have seen them play down to an opponent’s level.
“That’s what a basketball game should look like,” said Geyen. “It was a battle.”
Sawatzke led the Magic, finishing with 13 points. Lentner poured in 12 points, while Laimer added 11.
The loss was the first one at home for Monticello during the 2012-13 campaign, and it was the first one in weeks for a team that had been riding a nine-game winning streak.
“Yeah, it’s been a great start,” said Geyen. “The two teams that beat us are both ranked. We’ve just got to keep getting better. This was our first loss on the home court this year, so it’s time to start another [streak] here Friday.”
Monticello 78, Princeton 53
In the opening round of the tournament, the Magic weren’t a very gracious host. Monticello jumped on the visiting Tigers early and led throughout, scoring 39 points in each half on their way to a 25 point victory.
“We played Magic basketball and took care of business,” said Geyen. “it was a total team effort.”
The Magic starting backcourt scored 43 points in the game, behind a game-high 22 for Laimer and 21 for Sawatzke.
Monticello 58, Watertown 51
The Magic didn’t necesarily take care of business from start to finish in this one, but they did when they needed to. After jumping out to a big early lead, the Magic found themselves in a dogfight for much of the game. Trailing by two in the final seconds, the Magic drew up a play for Lentner.
“I had a good feeling, so I knew I was going to make it,” said the junior.
Sure enough, her shot near the hoop fell in, giving Monticello a second life with an overtime stanza. Monticello was dominant there, outscoring Watertown 10-2 to earn their championship berth.
Lentner, who scored in double figures in each game of the tournament, finished the contest with 18 points. Sawatzke joined her in double figures with 16 points, while Christine Lui added 10.
Monticello travels to St. Cloud Apollo for a 7:30 game Friday night.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at email@example.com