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Boys basketball: Litchfield, Melrose fight for a trip to state

It’s been almost three months and 25 games since the Melrose boys basketball team has felt the sting of defeat.

Today, the Dutchmen get a chance to take down the team that handed them that overtime loss when they square off with defending Section 6AA champion Litchfield at 8 p.m. at St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall.

“Well, they’re the top-rated team in the state so the pressure is on them,” said Litchfield head coach John Carlson. “I think it will be a pretty good game.”

The Dragons and Dutchmen earned their rematch with victories over New London-Spicer and Albany in 6AA sub-section championship games on Wednesday.

Both teams overwhelmed their opponents in the second half. Litchfield led by four at halftime but outscored NLS 36-22 in the second half and won 69-51.

Melrose battled the Huskies throughout the first half and also led by four at the break. But the Dutchmen opened the second half with a 21-4 run and blistered Albany, 80-58.

Litchfield, 23-5, has lost three games this season by a point and all the Dragons’ losses have come by a total of 16 points. Melrose, 29-1, has won by three points twice but otherwise has had little trouble.

The teams’ overtime matchup on December 21, 2012, was, for Melrose, a relatively low-scoring affair and was 51-51 after regulation. Litchfield outscored the Dutchmen 14-8 in overtime to win 65-59.

“I really believe that was our worst game of the season,” said Melrose star Scottie Stone after scoring 29 points against Albany. “We didn’t shoot very well and the game was played at our pace. Hopefully, (on Friday) we’ll be able to push the tempo.”

The Litchfield backcourt, led by Zach Kinny and Dylan Koll, are stout defenders and patient playmakers, said Dutchmen head coach Ryan Dusha, adding that Carlson’s disciplined approach helps the Dragons control games.

“Their guards get through screens and they play physical,” Dusha said. “We have to be ready to play physical, too, and we can’t turn the ball over. They’re such a good defensive team and I anticipate much the same (as the first game). Possessions are important.”

The Dragons have won 11 straight games and 14 of their last 15 the last six weeks and in 10 of those games they help opponents under 50 points.

“We have to play good defense,” said Litchfield’s Riley Pater, who scored a game-high 25 points and had 10 rebounds against NLS on Wednesday. “When we play good D it leads into our offense.”

The game plan is to work the ball, keep Melrose for getting out in transition, Carlson said.

“We don’t want a run-and-gun game,” he said, “and we’ll do our best not to do that.”

Tom Larson

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

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