MANKATO - In the second game of Thursday night's Section 2A, North Subsection semifinals at Mankato West High School, Nick Machemehl was a one-man wrecking crew for the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity boys' basketball team.
Machemehl set the tone for his team with 29 points as the Bulldogs defeated Cedar Mountain/Comfrey 83-73, sending LP/HT to Monday's Subsection championship game against Sleepy Eye St. Mary's.
The Cougars collapsed a 41-31 deficit at halftime to 60-58 with 7:27 left in the game, but overall they missed too many shots in the contest to keep pace with Machemehl and the Bulldogs.
"They just got more rebounds than us, and it seemed that everything was falling for them and we couldn't quite get everything going for us," CM/C junior Brady Kerkhoff said. "We just couldn't get it going... [Machemehl] wouldn't miss, that was a crucial part of the game."
CM/C senior Zach Kerkhoff established his presence early with his team's first eight points, helping the Cougars keep pace with LP/HT in the early going.
A Henry Pendleton three-point play and a Brady Kerkhoff 3-pointer gave the Cougars a 14-10 lead, but Machemehl followed with eight of his team's next 10 points to thwart CM/C's momentum.
After the score was tied 22-22, an 11-2 run by the Bulldogs put them in command of the contest. LP/HT senior Joey Madsen hit a buzzer-beating 2-pointer at the end of the half to send the Bulldogs into the break with a 41-31 lead.
Machemehl ended up with 18 points in the first half, with Zach Kerkhoff, Brady Kerkhoff and Riley Kerkhoff pacing the Cougars with eight points apiece.
"I guess to start the game they had a nice two-man game going there and we didn't adjust real well," CM/C head coach Brian Pendleton said. "At times we didn't get back, they played fast. That was probably the biggest thing to start the game, we really didn't get back on defense as well as we should have."
After a quiet first half in the scoring department, Cougars point guard Sam Pendleton emerged with 16 points in the second half.
Early in the second half, Sam Pendleton made a layup and then followed with a crafty assist to Brady Kerkhoff on a breakaway, leaving Kerkhoff with an open layup. Brady Kerkhoff struck again moments later by turning a steal into a layup to cut the CM/C's deficit to 45-39.
A 6-2 run gave the Bulldogs some breathing room, but LP/HT's Peyton Thiry then fouled Sam Pendleton on a shot, earning a technical foul for complaining about the call. Sam Pendleton ended up with four consecutive free throws, making three of them to cut the score to 51-46.
Consecutive baskets by Chandler Rose, Brady Kerkhoff and Henry Pendleton - the latter set up by a full-court pass from Sam Pendleton - brought up the 60-58 score. However, a three-point play by LP/HT's Spencer Radtke (16 points) cut into the Cougars' momentum, after which they were unable to make the score close again the rest of the way.
Down the stretch CM/C had chances to close the gap once again, but the team missed most of its long-range shots and even missed a number of shots near the rim.
"We were getting in the paint like we usually do, but we weren't making our bunnies in the paint," CM/C senior Ryan Pendleton said. "We'll get in [the key] and that's where we do all our work. We're not a 3-point shooting team, we just pound the ball in and get layups."
Sam Pendleton ended up with a team-high 18 points for the Cougars and added 13 assists and six rebounds. Brady Kerkhoff added 15 points, Zach Kerkhoff had 11 points and 11 rebounds, Riley Kerkhoff contributed nine points and Henry Pendleton finished with seven points and 10 rebounds.
Joining Machemehl and Radtke in double figures for the Bulldogs were Alex Heigl (12 points) and Jordan Radtke (10 points).
CM/C ended its season with a 19-7 record, falling short of its goal of making a serious run at a state tournament berth.
"It sucks knowing that it's over now, because I didn't want it to end here," Ryan Pendleton said on behalf of the team's seniors. "Neither did they, they all love it just as much as me."
Coach Pendleton was appreciative of the efforts of his seniors - Ryan Pendleton, Zach Kerkhoff, Shawn Sherman (three points), Trevor Serbus, Cole Kelly and Brandon Olson - in helping bring the Cougars a great degree of success during their careers.
"We're disappointed obviously, but like I told the seniors, they had a good run," Coach Pendleton said. "There are not many teams that can say this, I think they won nearly 80 percent of their games the past three years. They were conference co-champions, I believe that's only the second time in school history. They accomplished a lot, and we're very appreciative of them. Obviously their hard work will pay off as the younger kids come up, I hope they learn to play the same way."