DULUTH -- The Pequot Lakes boys' basketball team is entering uncharted waters.
The Patriots held off the feisty Moose Lake-Willow River Rebels, defeating them 40-36 Thursday in the Section 7, Class 2A semifinals at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, bringing Pequot one step closer to its first state tournament berth.
The Patriots will face Duluth Marshall 7:30 p.m. Saturday at UMD for the championship. Marshall downed Proctor 61-46 in Thursday's other semifinal.
"We're in a situation that we haven't been in, this being our 27th game of the season," Patriots coach Rad Royer said. "Moose Lake played hard and they gave it everything. We never gave up and we stayed in the game."
Little Falls/Alexandria title game postponed
The Little Falls/Alexandria game for the Section 8, Class 3A boys' basketball championship that was scheduled Thursday was postponed until 7 p.m. Saturday at St. Cloud Apollo.
It was a tough shooting night for both squads. Pequot shot 38 percent from the floor and ML-WR didn't fare much better, shooting an abysmal 26 percent. Both teams could chalk the poor shooting up to nerves, but it was the defensive play by both that made the difference.
"Moose Lake's defense was stifling," Patriots forward Matt Royer said. "There were no open looks and we had to work for everything we got."
Defense was definitely on the menu in the first quarter as Pequot managed only three points to ML-WR's six.
Things picked up a bit in the second quarter as Pequot outscored the Rebels 15-12 to forge an 18-18 halftime tie. The Patriots took a 16-14 lead late in the quarter on a Matt Royer 3-pointer and a Luke Schramm jumper.
Schramm led the Patriots with 17 points while Matt Royer added nine.
Each time Pequot got a lead, ML-WR guard Chad Dahlberg, who led all scorers with 22 points, answered. Dahlberg's jumper tied the game at 16 and the teams traded buckets to end the half.
"It took us a while to get into the groove of things," Matt Royer said. "But we settled down and stuck to our game plan."
The game plan in the second half was to get Schramm the ball down low.
Trailing 25-21, the Patriots went on a 10-3 run, with Schramm scoring six points on easy inside baskets. Patriots guard Cody Nelson capped off the run and the third quarter with a steal, giving Pequot a 31-28 lead.
Pequot fans that braved the snow and traveling conditions were on pins and needles in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots built their largest lead of the night with 9-4 run, giving them a 40-32 edge. A Schramm 3-point play and a Nelson layin off a Joey Neznik steal gave Pequot a cushion with only a few minutes to play.
But ML-WR answered with two baskets to keep within striking distance. All Pequot had to do was sink its free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
That was easier said than done.
Three different Patriots missed the front ends of one-and-ones. But the defense bailed them out as they held the Rebels scoreless the rest of the quarter and held on for the victory.
"We won on sheer desire," Rad Royer said. "You don't turn the ball over three times on missed free throws and win by four. We had that desire."
Rad Royer believes his team matches up size-wise against Duluth Marshall.
"They're a little quicker on the top but we're better on the sides," Rad Royer said. "Hopefully, we can show up and play the game we can play."
Moose Lake-Willow River 6 12 10 8 -- 36
Pequot Lakes 3 15 13 9 -- 40
MOOSE LAKE-WILLOW RIVER (36)
Chad Dahlberg 22, Matt Forse 2, Robert Nummela 5, Matt Giersdorf 1, Geoff Probst 6. Team totals: FG 12-45 (26 percent), FT 10-16 (62 percent).
PEQUOT LAKES (40)
Matt Royer 9, Joey Neznik 4, Cody Nelson 4, Luke Schramm 17, Justin Biebighauser 2, Shane Blowers 2, Jeremy Wiczek 2. Team totals: FG 17-44 (38 percent), FT 5-10 (50 percent). Record -- 21-6. Next game: at UMD vs. Duluth Marshall 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
3-point baskets -- ML-WR 2, PL 1. Total fouls -- ML-WR 14, PL 17.
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