February 8, 2023 at 5:58 p.m.
Sauk Centre rallies to defeat Pelican Rapids
Every year, the annual Breakdown Winter Lakes Classic in Alexandria brings elite basketball teams from across the state to central Minnesota for an exciting, hard-hitting day of hoops.
The 2023 edition was no different, with top-10-ranked programs such as Class AA’s Albany and Class AAA’s Orono and Perham competing in front of a large crowd at Alexandria Area High School in Alexandria.
And despite a high level of basketball displayed throughout, one moment loomed larger than others, as Sauk Centre junior forward Jay Neubert moved into first place on the Streeters’ all-time scoring list, tallying 26 points in Sauk Centre’s electrifying 51-46 win over Pelican Rapids Feb. 4.
“He probably wouldn’t have to practice to be an average two-way player, but he has standards to hold himself accountable, and nobody works harder than he does,” said Kevin Kuefler, head coach.
The performance put Neubert at 1,721 career points, passing Brent Egan’s program-leading mark of 1,715 that was set in 2007. Neubert shattered the mark with a free throw in the second half of a game the Streeters were trailing by double digits. After leading 27-26 in the first half and trailing by only two points at halftime, Sauk Centre struggled to break through offensively, watching as the Vikings built a 42-32 advantage with under six minutes to go.
However, a major point of stability in the high-pressure showdown was Sauk Centre’s defense. While senior forward Ian Fahje got his buckets, knocking down four 3-pointers, the Streeters held most of Pelican Rapids’ playmakers off the scoreboard, made several key stops down the stretch and forced turnovers.
“You’re not always going to shoot the ball as well as you’d like to, but we can control a good defense,” Kuefler said. “They weren’t being as aggressive to score, so we went with a smaller lineup and played full-court and trapped all over the place. It was not what we wanted to have to do, but we turned our defense into offense.”
Neubert converted a pair of and-one opportunities, while Damian Ahrens drilled two gigantic free throws in the closing minutes to help Sauk Centre complete the comeback. With Andrew Drevlow out, sophomore Ahrens stepped up, compiling 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting.
“It was a bigger crowd, and it’s a fun atmosphere to be a part of,” Kuefler said. “That doesn’t always mean you’re going to play well, especially as a young player. That wasn’t the case for him. He’s just a tough kid.”
The Streeters also received big contributions from their bench. Ashton Trisko remained on the court throughout the final possessions, playing lockdown defense and adding two free throws, while Troy Hansen collected four rebounds, two steals and an assist.
“It has to be everybody,” Kuefler said. “Ashton comes in and plays good defense, Troy is a big body that rebounds well and Corey (McCoy) is always hustling all over the place. We needed other people to step up and fill roles, and Ashton and Troy gave us good minutes on the big stage as sophomores.”
Ultimately, finding a win over a solid Pelican Rapids team in the second game in as many days and the fifth contest in 10 days exemplified what has made Sauk Centre so tough to defeat during the 2022-23 season, a seemingly-endless motor and drive to improve.
“I think it was a mental toughness win for us,” Kuefler said. “There were a lot of factors for us being fatigued and throwing the towel in, but they didn’t do that.”
Next up for the Streeters is a West Central Conference against the Benson Braves at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at Sauk Centre High School in Sauk Centre. Sauk Centre remains atop the conference standings at 8-2.
Neubert will be honored before the team’s game against the Albany Huskies Friday, Feb. 10.
PR 29 17 46
SC 27 24 51
Neubert 26 (3S), Ahrens 15 (4R), Ethan Riley 6 (6R), Trisko 2, Matthew Warring 2, Hansen 0 (4R) and McCoy 0 (3R).
Sauk Centre 74,
Minnewaska Area 55
Even as the Winter Lakes Classic quickly approached, the Streeters entered their Friday night matchup with Minnewaska Area with eyes only on the opponent in front of them.
The Streeters hit on their first four 3-pointers and shot 49% as a team, controlling the pace of play in a 74-55 conference win Feb. 3 at Minnewaska Area High School in Glenwood.
“We came ready to be the best version of ourselves and not go through the motions, but be in the moment and get better as a team,” Kuefler said.
Neubert recorded 25 points and four assists, Warring built on a strong senior season with 17 points and Trisko scored eight points, including a three.
Nine different Streeters put up at least one point, including senior Hunter Novak and sophomore Chad Herickhoff.
SC 32 42 74
MINN 20 35 55
Neubert 25 (3R, 4A), Warring 17 (3A), Trisko 8 (4R), Ahrens 8 (3R), Hansen 5 (4R), Riley 3 (9R), McCoy 3 (3R), Herickhoff 2, Novak 2, Hunter Broich 1 and Carter Ziemer 0 (3R).