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Boys Basketball: Monte overtakes Cards late

Montevideo guard Jesse Brace stays low to slide by the defense of Willmar's Joseph Leuze during the second half Saturday in Montevideo. The Thunder Hawks won 69-64. Tribune photo by Tom Larson.1 / 4
Montevideo's Phillip Ward, left, looks to pass as Willmar's Alex Grove defends during the Thunder Hawks' 69-64 win Saturday in Montevideo. Ward led the Thunder Hawks with 20 points, including a 3-pointer that put his team ahead for good on Saturday in Montevideo. Tribune photo by Tom Larson.2 / 4
Willmar's Jimmy Unger lines up a jump shot against Montevideo's Brett Erickson during Saturday's non-conference game Saturday in Montevideo. Unger hit four 3-point shots and scored 22 points but the Cardinals fell to the Thunder Hawks 69-64. Tribune photo by Tom Larson.3 / 4
Willmar's Austin Rambow goes up for two of his team-high 23 points against Montevideo in a non-conference game Saturday in Montevideo. Tribune photo by Tom Larson.4 / 4

By Tom Larson

MONTEVIDEO -- Many of the players on the Willmar and Montevideo boys basketball teams have been competing against each other since their travel-team days; they know the opposition almost as well as their own teammates.

In the previous four seasons, the teams split four games and the average margin of victory was three points. So when Saturday's non-conference game came down to the last minute, few in the packed Monte high school gym were surprised.

The Thunder Hawks' Phillip Ward nailed a huge 3-point shot to put his team ahead with 1:20 to play, then Monte converted six of eight free throws in the final minute to lock up a 69-64 victory.

"I still had chills afterwards," said Ward, who led Monte with 20 points. "We practice outside shooting all the time in practice. I was open and it was something that just felt good."

The Thunder Hawks improved to 15-4 overall and are off until Friday, when they play at Lac qui Parle Valley. It also will give Monte time for one of its top players, Colton Vien, to come back from a left ankle injury. Vien watched the Willmar game in street clothes from the bench.

Willmar dropped its second straight game and takes a 10-6 record into Monday's Central Lakes Conference game at Sauk Rapids.

Cardinals head coach Steve Grove was disappointed by Saturday's result, but he, too, wasn't surprised.

"These kids have a history together, going back to travel ball," Grove said. "The know each other very well and they have had good battles over the years."

Monte took a 37-30 lead into halftime, but the Cardinals quickly closed the gap early in the second half, and neither team was able to pull away.

Willmar's Austin Rambow played solid ball inside, scoring 23 points, to complement the outside shooting of Jimmy Unger, who hit four 3-pointers and finished with 22 points.

Monte countered with Ward, who hit five 3-pointers, Brett Bergeson and his 19 points and Jake Douglas, who finished with 17. Monte hit nine 3-pointers and the Cardinals hit eight.

Unger's 3-pointer with about two minutes left put Willmar ahead 62-60, but the Cardinals managed just one more basket on Rambow's layup with 11 seconds left.

After Ward recaptured the lead with his 3-pointer and Kyle TeBeest hit two free throws, Willmar turned the ball over on a bad pass, and Unger's 3-point attempt with 25 seconds left that would have pulled the Cardinals within a point rolled around the rim but spun out.

"We were up two, we had a turnover and then Ward hits that three," Grove said. "It's a game of inches. We'll learn from this game."

The Thunder Hawks hit almost 50 percent from the field but secured the game at the free throw line, hitting 22 of 28 foul shots.

"This was a big win, especially with one of our kids (Vien) out," said Monte head coach Dan Douglas. "Willmar is a good aggressive team. We kept it close and at the big moments we hit key shots."

See Monday's Tribune for a full boxscore from the game.

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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