by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Rogers Royals are on the verge of their first conference title in boys basketball after tumbling St. Michael-Albertville 65-48 Tuesday evening, generating perhaps their best performance of the season in a game they had to win.
“Conference means a lot to us. If we can beat Cambridge on Friday, this will be our first one,” said senior guard Austin Barbeln, who led a nicely-balanced attack with 13 points.
It’s been a choppy season for Rogers with a 17-8 record, including a 76-55 loss to STMA on Jan. 26, along with some big wins including two over Elk River.
“This is a great win for the Royals,” said coach Joe Belka. “Conference was one of our goals, and we’ve had some goals we haven’t met. But we keep telling the kids to be resilient and go after the next one.”
Rogers and STMA are each 9-2 in the Mississippi 8 with Buffalo next at 7-3. The Royals will host Cambridge-Isanti (whom they beat 73-50 earlier) and STMA will host Monticello (whom they’ve beaten 69-38) in their conference finale’s Friday.
Royal center Michael Schreiber notched 12 points and 9 rebounds, Garrett Hol 9 points and 3 blocks, Nahtan Roehl 8 points, and Josh Turnquist 7 points and 6 rebounds. Chase Cleveland and Sam Spilles added 6 points each and Gunnar Bloom 4.
STMA’s high-scoring guard tandem of Michael Wiese (17.7 ppg) and Michael Mooney (14-3) was held in check with 7 and 8 points, respectively. Another guard, Max Babb, led with 15 points.
“We needed to shut down their outside shooters, Michael Wiese and Michael Mooney, and we were able to do that tonight,” said Barbeln. “They are really good players. Our defense played really well. We were getting all the rebounds, so they didn’t get many second-chance baskets.”
Belka credited Hol, a 6-4 senior forward, with sparking the defensive effort against the talented Knight guards.
The Royals outrebounded the Knights 27-18, shot 50 percent at 21-for-42, sank 21 of 30 free shots to STMA’s 9-for-13, made 11 steals and blocked 6 shots. They won comfortably even with Schreiber held well below his 21-point average.
“We have been riding on Michael all season, and tonight they did a pretty good job against him,” said Belka. “But our wings stepped up and our defense collectively played probably its best game of the year. We were more aggressive in the paint. We beat them on the boards. That’s a team that was averaging 69 points and tonight they got 48.”
Barbeln hit 9 points in the first half, including a full-court dash for a layup just before buzzer after stealing the ball, putting his team up 32-19.
“Right when I stole the ball I looked and saw six seconds were left, so I took off,” said Barbeln, who added 4 straight free shots in the second half after STMA had pulled within 9 points.
The victory also helped the Royals in their Section 8AAAA prospects. Belka pointed out that 8AAAA (also including Elk River, STMA and Buffalo) is the only one in the state with all the teams .500 or better.
“We are trying to hang on to that No. 4 seed and get a home game, and maybe move up to No. 3. We could wind up playing Elk River for a third time!”
Rogers 65, St. Michael-Albertville 48
STMA – Michael Wiese 7, Michael Mooney 8, Cole Krutzig 5, Max Babb 15, Erik Johnson 2, Herbert Tarpeh 6, Brian Ferry 5
Rogers – Gunnar Bloom 4, Garrett Hol 9 (3 blk), Nathan Roehl 8, Austin Barbeln 13, Josh Turnquist 7 (6 reb), Michael Schreiber 12 (9 reb), Sam Spilles 6