by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
When Zimmerman coach Ben Kvidt saw the much-taller Rogers Royals dropping in three-point shots Tuesday evening, he knew his Thunder were in trouble.
The Royals ruled the second half and beat the Thunder 78-73, with 6-foot-8 Michael Schreiber mashing them for 24 points down low, Austin Barbeln casting in 18 from the perimeter and 6-foot-6 Josh Turnquist adding 16 from both close- and long-range.
“We got a little cold at the end, but give Rogers credit, they’ve definitely got some weapons,” said Kvidt. “When they hit three’s like they did tonight, they are tough to beat, inside and outside.”
The Royals made eight 3-pointets, five of them by Barbeln and two by Turnquist. Meanwhile, Schrieber, held to six points in the first half, shoveled in nine field goals in the second half, including three straight to break a 66-66 tie.
Zimmerman, opening its season, led 38-32 at the half. Rogers (1-1) opened the second half with nine straight points and led thereafter for all but a few seconds.
“In the first half we allowed them to dictate the tempo and we forced some things and we weren’t getting the ball inside,” assessed Rogers coach Joe Belka. “In the second half, we got the ball inside to Michael down the stretch. We got him the ball on the blocks, and he does a good job catching and releasing.”
Zimmerman, with nine of the top 11 back from a team that went to state last year, expects a strong season and another run at state even though they were moved up from Class 2A to 3A. Rogers has high aspirations as well.
Senior guards led the Thunder as Caleb Lunning potted 20 points and Kyle Connelly 14. Five other player had six to nine points. The Thunder got most of the loose balls, hit seven three’s and 11 of 13 free shots, and despite a distinct size disadvantage, rebounded with the Royals, each grabbing 25. But they stopped hitting field goals late in the game.
“I can’t say enough positive things about Zimmerman,” said Belka. “They are very talented, they share the ball, they have multiple good players.”
He added: “Quite a few times we had hands in their faces and they still knocked down their outside shots. But through the course of the game I think our size wore them down and they got tired.”
With Zimmerman leaving the Mississippi 8 for the newly-formed Granite Ridge this year, the Zimmerman-Rogers match is now just a non-conference game. The coaches were asked if that took some luster off the intra-district rivalry.
“I think it might have even more luster,” said Belka, after contemplating the question a bit, “because now you only get one shot at them. These kids have played against each other since (grade school) travel basketball. A lot of them are friends and text each other. And now they only get one chance to beat them. No rematch.”
Kvidt took an opposite approach, preferring to regard Rogers as a valuable non-conference challenge.
“This is a good game for us, playing a good opponent,” said Kvidt. “Our goal is another section championship, and this game helps us for sectionals down the road. We don’t want to get caught up in the rivalry talk.”
The Royals (1-1) will play at Anoka on Friday night. Zimmerman will head up north to play at Cloquet, a team in the Thunder’s new section, 7AAA.
Rogers 78, Zimmerman 73
Rogers ………….. 32 46 — 78
Zimmerman …… 38 35 — 73
Zimmerman — Caleb Lunning 20 (2 stl, 3 ast, 5-6 ft, 3 3-pt), Kyle Connelly 14 (4 reb), Ethan Lunning 8 (4 reb), Jake Wilson 8 (4 reb, 4 ast), Nate Christensen 8 (5 reb, 2 3pt), Gavin Doppler 6 (3 ast), Corey Foyt 9
Rogers – Garret Hol 3 (4 reb), Chase Cleveland 2 (4 reb), Austin Barbeln 18 (5 3pt, 2 ast), Nick Runge 9, Josh Turnquist 16 (3 blk, 2 3pt, 6 reb), Michael Schreiber 24 (6 reb, 2 stl, 2 ast), Jack Anderson 3 (3 ast)