ST. PETER - Sleepy Eye St. Mary's looked to be in the driver's seat, heading to its second straight Section 2A title game after grabbing a big lead early against Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity.
Unfortunately for the Knights, the Bulldogs weren't about to lie down, instead tying the game at halftime on a 3-pointer by Spencer Radtke. Radtke banked his shot as time expired to make it 29-29 at the break.
Gone was the 12-point lead the Knights had earlier in the first half after a basket by Kansas Adams. And gone was Knights' chance to go to the state tournament as the Bulldogs took over in the second half, pulling out a 80-73 North Subsection championship win at Gustavus Adolphus College.
Nick Machemehl was unstoppable in the second half, scoring 14 of his 26 points. Joey Madsen and Radtke each finished with 20 apiece for the Bulldogs (17-11), who will play Mountain Lake Area (23-5) in the Section 2A finals Friday at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
The loss ends St. Mary's season at 23-4. It was also the final game for seniors Sean Mathiowetz, Kansas Adams and Jordan Anderson, who have been with the program through the good times and the bad.
The Bulldogs went on a 14-2 run to close the first half. That momentum carried over in the second half and free throws (the Bulldogs hit 18-of-21 from the line in the second half) decided the game late as the Knights couldn't close the gap.
"I thought they hit some big shots and they did a nice job of penetrating," St. Mary's coach Tim Milliard said. "I don't know what they shot for the game but they were outstanding from the free throw line and they forced us to come out and play a little bit. They hit some shots that they needed to make."
The Bulldogs took their first lead of the game at 33-32 and a 3-pointer by Machemehl upped the lead to 45-41. At that point, it seemed whenever the Knights hit a big basket, the Bulldogs answered with one of their own.
A pair of Madsen free throws with about six minutes left put the Bulldogs ahead 62-56 and the lead stayed at about six for most of the rest of the game. Madsen iced the game with four free throws late for the final 80-73 margin.
Anderson finished with 21 points and Mathiowetz finished with 17 points and 10 assists. Adams had 10 points and John Brandl scored 10.
"It's tough, because most of these guys I've had since ninth grade," Milliard said of his seniors. "It's been really enjoyable to have them and it's been enjoyable to watch them develop and mature. It's going to take me a while to get over this and it's going to be real strange not having them around."