The Milaca boys basketball team won’t be forgetting the Friday, Jan. 13 contest against the Mora Mustangs anytime soon.
In the double-overtime thriller against the Granite Ridge foe, the Wolves had chances to seal the victory but couldn’t do so, allowing Mora to pull out the 82-76 win in Milaca.
“They hit a few big shots at the end but we just couldn’t do it,” said senior guard Peyton Hunt following the loss.
Ahead by three points at both the end of regulation and the first overtime, the Mustangs answered with big-time 3-pointers to extend the game.
“Two separate times, they are down three and they hit those shots. You got to give those guys credit, those are tough shots,” said Wolves coach Kaleb Anderson.
Prior to the contest, the matchup had potential to be a back-and-forth affair with Mora coming into the game at 8-1 while Milaca came in at 7-2 in what could be a section matchup later this spring.
Early on, however, it seemed like the Mustangs would race by the Wolves as the club took an 9-3 lead getting some easy buckets. Milaca came hard-charging back to tie the game up 9-apiece, starting what became a trend on the night as every time a team got some distance, the other came roaring back.
Mora against pushed ahead by seven points midway through the first before it was Milaca’s turn to go ahead. The Wolves, spurred by a couple Traces Hasz baskets including a 3-pointer to cap the 14-2 run, Milaca led 25-20 to prompt a timeout by the Mustangs as 4:56 remained in the first half.
Even more impressive by the run was the Wolves doing so without starting point guard Lewis Wolbert, who was forced to the bench after picking up two early fouls.
“We were impressed that we had guys ready to step up. We always tell them to be ready and they were,” said Anderson.
Back from the timeout, Mora again answered, closing the half on a 6-0 run to lead by the slimmest of margins into the break.
The ending to the half really hurt the Wolves, said Anderson.
“We made bad plays in the first half where we should have been up but we weren’t.”
The close game continued into the second half with Milaca pushing ahead by five points before Mora surged back into the lead as the half wore on. The Mustangs held on to the lead until a Hunt basket returned the advantage to the home team with 5:15 left in the game.
For the final five minutes of regulation, the Mustangs and Wolves kept the fans on their toes, before Wolbert made his mark on the game. The senior guard gave Milaca the lead with under a minute to go before calmly stepping up to the line and nailing two big free throws for the 57-54 lead.
Mora quickly retorted with a bucket, again fouled Wolbert who again hit two more big foul shots before the Mustangs got their late game heroics. A late 3-pointer by Mora tied the game at 59-59 to force overtime.
Following the letdown of not closing the game in regulation, the Wolves had to regroup quickly, said Hunt.
“When you they hit a bit shot like that, it’s obviously defeating but the big thing was keeping the guys motivated and make sure they are still ready to go to get yourself back in that position,” he said.
Milaca was able to do so, even with Wolbert fouling out in the overtime, again leading by three points after the Wolves broke Mora’s press and found Hunt down low for the 69-66 lead and under 10 seconds to go in the ball game.
The short time didn’t affect the Mustangs, however, as Mora again hit a game-tying 3-pointer to force another extra period.
In the second overtime period, the Mustangs executed well, grabbing a 77-74 lead before Milaca’s chance to answer was ended by a charge. The Wolves were then forced to foul, giving the Mustangs the 6-point victory.
Though sunk by a couple late-game 3’s, the message by Anderson is not to focus on the last plays of regulation and the first overtime.
“Every play has to matter. So can we clean up one here or there and that can be the difference,” Anderson said.
Hunt and Hasz each had 20 points in the defeat while senior forward Kyle Martin had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Milaca and Mora’s contest was the second of the night between the Wolves and Mustangs as the cap of a doubleheader.
The loss to Mora left a bad taste in the Wolves’ mouth but Anderson looked to find the positives following the setback, as a possible chance to get the Mustangs back is still on the calendar.
“We don’t feel good about tonight. We don’t feel good about it at all. We’re mad, we’re sad, we’re all those things, but the positive thing is that we are going to get them again,” said Anderson as the two teams will play again in just under a month, with Milaca heading to Mora on Feb. 17.
Until then, Milaca will aim to get back on track. That mission started on Jan. 17, with a trip to Zimmerman. The Wolves then will return home on Jan. 20, hosting St. Cloud Cathedral. Tip is set for 7:15 p.m. between the Wolves and Crusaders.