By Rob LaPlante
Eight of the St. Michael-Albertville football players have turned their pads into shorts and sneakers this winter playing for the STMA boys’ basketball team.
All eight are also familiar with the phrase “bend but don’t break.” The phrase is often referred to a defense in football that gives up plays, but hunkers down when the chips are on the line.
Friday’s home opener, the Knights bent, but didn’t break in a 62-53 victory over Orono.
It looked early as if the Knights were going to blowout the Spartans. STMA jumped to an 18-8 lead, but Orono failed to run and hide. The Spartans dominated the offensive rebounds in the first half and trailed only 31-23 heading into the locker room.
“It was very frustrating because a lot of it was lack of defensive rebounding,” said head coach Tim Anfenson. “We solved that problem and then we started turning the ball over.”
The Spartans gained late momentum in the first half. STMA failed to rebound on several misfired Orono shots. The Spartans eventually scored and cut the lead to six points.
“That might have been a school record,” said Anfenson, referring to the eight missed shots that were all recovered by Orono. “Some of the guys that were out there were a bit fatigued. We’re a bit undersized and without the big strong physical post, we need our guards to help out. We need everybody to get down and rebound the basketball.”
While the rebounds weren’t coming in that sequence, STMA managed to out-rebound the Orono 41-31. Senior forward Erik Johnson led both teams with eight boards. It was also Johnson’s ability to hit some key shots that kept the Knights on top for most the game.
Sophomore guard Jackson Greenwaldt scored six first-half points, but was a factor in other areas, picking up four assists and three steals.
The Knights opened up their biggest lead of the game 45-32 with nine minutes left in regulation. But like most the game, the Spartans hung around and pulled to within 55-53 with under a minute to play.
“We wanted to push it away but we couldn’t do it. They hit a few three’s,” Greenwaldt said. “We were kind of scrappy and knew if we were strong with the ball they would foul us. In the end we got the win.”
Late free throws sealed the deal as the Knights earned their first win of the season.
“It feels really good,” Greenwaldt said. “Just to get one and now hopefully we can keep it going.”
Orono’s Pete Duxbury and Tommy Gander-Ostrom led all scorers with 12 points each. STMA’s Johnson and Krutzig each finished with 10 points. Greenwaldt finished with nine, senior forward Brian Ferry had eight, sophomore guard Noah Evans had seven, senior guard Dallas Freeman had six and junior center Brian Sukalski had five points.
“Lot of people asked me who’s going to be the scorers and I think everybody is going to have to kick in,” Anfenson said. “We’re not going to have somebody like the last couple years who is going to get the majority of shots. We have some guys who can shoot it, but we’re going to have to get everybody to kick in a few buckets.
“That being said, it was a good win. We had a lot of young guys running around out there. It was a nice night for us.”
The Knights hosted Elk River on Tuesday night and the rest of the week they invade the Granite City. Thursday at 7:30 p.m. they are at St. Cloud Tech and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. they play at Sartell-St. Stephen.