NEW ULM - During Thursday's boys' basketball game between New Ulm and Mankato West, the ball was like a drop of blood on a court full of starved sharks - there was hardly a pass, dribble, shot or rebound that didn't have flailing hands contesting it on both sides of the court.
The Eagles largely held their own during the frenzy, but a scorching 16-0 head start for the Scarlets was too much for the home side to overcome in a 72-49 nonconference loss.
"They came out and they hit some shots right out of the gate, and we got down," New Ulm head coach Steve Foley said. "The kids kept battling, and boy we worked our tails off. I thought we rebounded real well, we did a good job taking care of the ball, it's just tough to overcome that."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm’s Tyler Dittrich (52) takes a shot over a Mankato West defender during the Eagles’ loss Thursday at NUHS.
Mankato West senior Austin Majeskie got a quick start compiling his game-high 23 points, hitting a 3-pointer for the game's first basket and adding two more scores to give his team an early 7-0 lead.
On the other end of the court, the Eagles struggled to get an open look at the basket through the Scarlets' suffocating defense. By the time New Ulm junior Blake Piotter scored the team's first point on a free throw, 6:11 had already elapsed in the contest.
However, when New Ulm finally got on the score board, it started looking like a new team.
After falling behind 16-0, the Eagles matched Mankato West point for point for a six-minute stretch. New Ulm senior Chris Mulder turned a steal into a 3-pointer and fellow senior Sam Miller followed with another basket to make the score 32-16 with 5:26 left in the first half.
"When we came out I guess we weren't really hustling as much as we should have been, we came out too slow," Miller said. "Then we started passing the ball and we started busting our butts up the court and down the court and we just started to put the ball in the hole."
The Scarlets regained the momentum and put together a 13-3 run to build a 45-19 late in the half, but baskets by Eagles Grant Kannegiesser and Tyler Dittrich (team-high eight first-half points) made the score 45-23 at halftime.
The second half was largely a stalemate, with the Scarlets edging the Eagles 27-26 in the half.
New Ulm opened the scoring in the half on a nifty transition basket. Aaron Stark pulled down a contested defensive rebound, found Mulder with the outlet pass and Mulder lobbed the ball down-court for Jackson Yackley, who gathered the pass at full speed and converted for a lay-up.
Mankato West followed with a 15-2 run, but New Ulm countered with an 8-0 stretch that included four points by Tanner Kluis that cut the score to 60-35 and helped the Eagles regain momentum.
Shortly after, Miller got on a hot streak and scored eight straight points, earning two and-one attempts during the stretch, to make the score 64-44.
"I was trying to create some things to try to get the team going, trying to fire them up," Miller said. "If I've got to score to do that, I've got to score, but if I've got to pass, I've got to pass. I'd just like to thank my teammates for setting the screens and boxing out like they did, if it wasn't for them I wouldn't have been able to do the things that I did."
Isaiah Johnson added three points down the stretch for the Eagles and Tanner Zupfer scored the team's final two points on free throws.
Miller (eight rebounds) had a team-high 10 points for New Ulm. Dittrich (six rebounds) netted eight points and Johnson, Stark (four rebounds), Kluis and Mulder (five assists) added five points apiece. Riley Drahota chipped in three assists.
Foley was impressed by his team's relentless defense during the game, which caused a number of Mankato West turnovers and miscues.
"I thought it was great," Foley said. "We're just coming along game by game, getting better and better. We're working our tail off, and I think we're going to start seeing some results here soon. It's fun to watch, it's fun to be part of, and the kids are doing a great job."
New Ulm fell to 0-4 with the loss after a tough opening stretch to the season.
"We've just going to come out and we've got to come out on fire, we've got to come out with heart and energy," Miller said. "We came out kind of lackluster and we didn't really go as hard as we could. Those first four games we had, that was the toughest stretch of our season, so I think we're going to start getting the 'W's now."
The Eagles will travel to play Dassel-Cokato at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
"We've got a couple days here to get ready for them and then we'll hit the road," Foley said. "Hopefully we come with this type of effort and we'll be fine - if we come with this effort every night, we'll be fine no matter who we play. I can't be prouder of the kids the way they worked, it was fun."