by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Rogers boys basketball set a team record of 19 wins this year, but the Orono Spartans denied the Royals their 20th, the one that would have gotten them to state.
The Spartans, setting a furious pace that trumped the Royals height advantage while shooting torridly as well, beat the Royals 72-51 for the Section 5AAA crown Thursday evening at St. Cloud State.
“I love our kids, I love the way they complete,” said Rogers coach Joe Belka, “and in my heart of hearts, I think we have the team that can compete with them, but Orono was the better team tonight.”
The No. 2 seeded Royals finished 19-10, while top-seeded Orono (25-4) earned its second straight trip to state.
Orono got 27 points from guard Jordon Smith, along with 19 points and eight rebounds from center Jeremy Borg. Brady Wohler added seven points, five assists and four steals.
Rogers had a big 46-30 rebound edge, enough to win most of the time, but that mattered little as Orono fleeced them for a 20-9 turnover edge while shooting 27-for-55 from the floor (including two breakaway dunks by Borg and Brady Wohler) and 6-for-12 on three’s.
The Royals, spooked into hurrying too much by Orono’s relentless pressure, shot just 21-for-61 (including 1-for-11 on three’s) and botched four fast-break opportunities in the first half.
“We had seen Orono a number of times this year and I thought they played exceptionally well tonight,” said Belka. “We struggled with their press, and we spent a lot of time in the past week working on that.”
Rory Donovan sank 14 points, Trevor Morlock and Trevor Berkley 11 each, and Michael Schreiber eight for Rogers. Morlock led with 12 rebounds. Josh Turnquist snagged 10 rebounds while scoring seven points.
The pace was exhausting for the Royals.
“They got it up the court really fast,” said Donovan, “and they had good ball pressure. It was a fast paced game,”
Orono reveled in heaving long passes downcourt, wheeling up the floor immediately after grabbing defensive rebounds, and generally moving the ball like a pinball machine.
“We were slowing it up two much in January and we got beat by Waconia,” related coach Barry Wohler, “so, in our last 12 games we have really moved the ball.”
Rogers stuck with Orono for a few minutes before the Spartans rattled off a 13-0 run that opened a 26-11 lead. Rogers spurted back within 32-26 in the closing seconds of the half but Kyle Mileusnic nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Orono a big lift.
“When you have two teams with contrasting styles like this game,” said Wohler, “you want to get the early lead. We got the lead, and they had to chase us. If they had gotten the lead, they could slow it down … so we were fortunate to get the lead. And then we got that big three by Mileusnic that gave us a big lift and took the wind out of them.”
The Royals were not accustomed to such pressure defense. Belka said very few teams had pressed them.
“I felt we were ready coming into the game,” said Belka, “but you get caught up in the moment, and the kids might have pushed themselves or rushed a little too much, so give Orono credit for that.”
With a 19-11 mark, the Royals had one more win than the 2008-09 team that earned the school’s lone state trip in boys basketball.
Seniors playing their last game were Morlock, Bjorn Bloom, Berkley, Donovan, R.J. Dean and Mitch Ziebell. Dean, the point guard, facing the brunt of the Orono press, was scoreless.
It’s always an emotional locker room after the last game, especially in a section title game.
“Like I told the kids, I was as close to this team as i have been with any group,” said Belka. “This is a wonderful group that did a lot of great things. We won the most games we have had here. I feel bad for seniors. We’ve got some great senior leaders.”
Said Morlock: “I wish we could have made state, but it was a fun season, I guess, but, yeah, it feels terrible now.”
Orono 72, Rogers 51
Rogers ………. 26 25 — 51
Orono …………. 35 37 — 72
Rogers — Trevor Berkley 11 (6 reb, 3 ast), Rory Donovan 14 (5 reb, 2 blk), Michael Schreiber 8, Trevor Morlock 11 (12 reb, 2 blk), R.J. Dean 0 (3 ast, 2 stl), Bjorn Bloom 0, Austin Barbeln 0 (5 reb, 2 ast), Josh Turnquist 7 (10 reb) …. Team totals: 21-61 FT, 1-11 3FG, 8-11 FT, 46 rebounds, 17 fouls, 20 turnovers
Orono — Brady Wohler 7 (5 ast, 4 stl), Erik Peterson 7, Jeremy Borg 19 (8 reb, 3 blk), Jordon Smith 27 (3 ast, 2 stl, 5 reb), Kyle Mileusnic 5, Anthonie Tholey 3, Chase Myhran 2, Daniel Drew 2 … Team totals: 27-55 FG, 6-12 3FG, 12-22 FT, 30 rebounds, 13 fouls, 9 turnovers