by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
In the final year Zimmerman and Rogers will be in the same conference, it happens that both District 728 siblings are pretty good in boys basketball.
That’s why a big crowd turned out Friday evening to watch the towering Royals and the small, speedy Thunder engaged in a furious, back-and-forth battle won by Rogers 70-64 in overtime in Zimmerman.
“Zimmerman is a really good team, expected to be one of the contenders in the conference this year, and we expect to be as well,” said Joe Belka, Royals coach. “They were really scrappy and played us tough under the boards even though we are much taller.”
Rogers, 2-0 in the Mississippi 8 and 7-2 overall, could not put away the Thunder despite leading by 10 midway through the second half and by six with 80 seconds left.
Zimmerman, which will join a new conference next year, caught up as guard Brandon Giese drilled a pair of late 3-point shots, the second of which knotted the score 60-60 with 40 seconds left.
With the decibel level soaring, Rogers went for one shot and Zimmerman’s Blake Ehley made a clean block of a jumper by Trevor Berkley to force overtime.
“Their crowd was so loud that we couldn’t run the play we wanted with 10 or 11 seconds left,” said Belka. “The guy who was supposed to shoot, Rory Donovan, couldn’t hear the call. This is always a tough place to play with the little gym and the big crowd and lots of noise.”
But Rogers 6-2 guard R.J. Dean took over in the overtime. Dean had just two points in regulation but hit eight of Rogers’ 10 points in the O.T, including their only 3-pointer of the game, a layup and three of four free shots.
“R.J. was very excited to play in this game and have a chance to guard Giese, who is a very good player,” said Belka. “He pressed a little bit early on, but got more relaxed and confident, and he was the difference in overtime.”
Rogers had 6-7 post Rory Donovan with 18 points, 6-9 post Michael Schreiber with 14 points, 6-3 guard Trevor Berkley with 11 points, Dean with 10, and 6-4 forward Trevor Morlock and 6-6 forward Josh Turnquist with 8 each.
Morlack snagged 13 rebounds, leading Rogers to a 40-31 edge. That was a very respectable showing for Zimmerman, which had five guys with between four and six rebounds.
“I told the kids, we lost, but we got better tonight,” said Thunder coach Ben Kvidt. “I was proud that they fought hard. They could have folded when we got down 10, and I think we did against St. Michael (on Tuesday), but not tonight. We fought back and took it to overtime.”
The Thunder are 7-3 overall, their ledger including the Detroit Lakes holiday tourney title and a victory over longtime Class 3A power Rocori (currently 8-3).
But they started 0-2 in the Mississippi 8 this week, also losing St. Michael-Albertville 67-52 on Tuesday.
“We’ve played two tough teams, and it won’t get any easier,” said Kvidt about the Mississippi 8 race.
Zimmerman, topping out at 6-foot-3, is always the smaller team, but the differential is extreme against Rogers.
“We won’t face anyone bigger than them,” said Kvidt. “How many teams can go 6-9, 6-7, and 6-6 on the front? And their guards are 6-2, 6-3, too. Rogers is very disciplined, too, They don’t do anything they’re not supposed to … I thought we still battled them pretty well (for rebounds).”
Giese, a 6-1 senior guard who is 13 points short of 1,000, tallied 17 against Rogers, including three 3-pointers. The Thunder need the 3-pointers and weren’t hitting them on this night, totaling four in the game. Ehley was next with 14 points as the Thunder had seven players with at least six points.
“It was an exciting game,” said Giese. “Their height was the big thing. They outrebounded us. But we fought hard … We’re not discouraged. We’ve got more games coming up and we hope they’ll go our way.”
On Tuesday, Zimmerman will play at Becker, and Rogers will host Buffalo. The final Rogers-Zimmerman conference duel will take place Feb. 8 in Rogers.
Rogers 70, Zimmerman 64
Rogers ………… 33 27 10 — 70
Zimmerman ….. 28 32 4 — 64
Rogers — Trevor Morlock 8 (13 reb, 3 ast), Bjorn Bloom 1, Chase Cleveland 1, Trevor Berkley 11, Rory Donovan 18 (5 reb, 3 blk), Josh Turnquist 8 (7 reb, 2 blk), R.J. Dean 10 (5 ast), Michael Schreiber 12 (7 reb, 2 ast)
Zimmerman — Caleb Lunning 7 (5 reb, 2 ast), Brandon Giese 17 (4 reb), Ethan Lunning 6, Nate Christenson 6 (6 reb), Gavin Doppler 6 (4 reb, 3 stl), Blake Ehley 14 (6 reb), Kyle Connelly 2 (2 ast), Jake Wilson 6 (2 blk)
Team stats — Rebounds: Rogers 40, Zimmerman 31 … Free shots: Rogers 21-31, Zimmerman 10-14 … 3-point shots: Zimmerman 4, Rogers 1