NEW ULM - By the final minute of Monday's Tomahawk Conference boys' basketball game between Minnesota Valley Lutheran and New Ulm Cathedral, the Chargers had seen a 39-27 halftime lead turn into a one-point deficit.
MVL had no room left for error as it inbounded the ball with 36 seconds left on the clock, crossing the first hurdle when the ball was sent into play just before the five-second limit.
The ball eventually ended up in the hands of senior Richard Jensen, who was positioned at the free throw line. Without a defender between him and the basket, Jensen knew what he had to do.
"We just ran our offense and set real solid screens, and with those screens I was able to get open at the top of the key," Jensen said. "I knew the time was running out pretty quick, and I saw a defender coming up from the bottom, so I knew I had to take it."
Jensen's shot swished through the net for a basket that turned out to be the game-winner, giving the Chargers a 55-54 lead with 11 seconds left. The Greyhounds got one final shot off in the dying seconds of the game, but an MVL defender safely grabbed the rebound.
The win was MVL's first of the year, breaking a 12-game losing streak.
"It was not a pretty second half of basketball, but we persevered through it and struggled through it," MVL head coach Morgan said. "The 12 losses build some character, and this one here built a little bit more character. The guys played good defense in the last 10 seconds and we got the rebound on the shot, which was real important."
Jensen ended up with a team-high 12 points in the victory, which saw the home side score only 16 points in the second half as Cathedral came close to completing a come-from-behind victory.
"It's good experience to be in that close of a game, we haven't had many of those," said Cathedral head coach Paul Hazuka, whose team fell to 1-9 with the loss. "We put ourselves in an opportunity to win - even in the last seconds, when we were down by one, the kids did we asked them to do, and we still got off a shot. That was a good offensive effort, and hopefully we learn and build on it."
The Chargers never trailed in the first half, breaking a 10-10 tie with a 29-17 run to close out the half.
The key stretch of play in the half came when the score was 30-25, after which MVL scored nine unanswered points over a span of three possessions to take a commanding lead.
Chargers senior Ryan Grunke (nine points) began the run with a 3-pointer, with fellow senior Kris Goetzke (11 points) adding a 3 on the next possession. Goetzke's shot initially bounced hard off the iron and hit the backboard, but then settled on the edge of the rim for a moment before falling.
Chad Lease (nine points) added a three-point play to complete the run.
The Chargers came out strong in the second half when Goetzke stole the opening inbounds pass of the half and ended up converting a layup and the following one-and-one attempt.
Cathedral's Ben Kittler (team-high 13 points) responded with his third 3-pointer of the game, but MVL's Justin Bruns (seven points) stole an inbounds pass himself and converted a three-point play to put his team ahead 45-30.
The Greyhounds then began eating into the lead through attrition, capping a 24-8 run with a basket by Jake Stadick (12 points) to take their first lead of the game at 53-52 with two minutes remaining in the contest.
"We did a nice job playing 'D' and making our shots in the second half," Kittler said. "We had to keep them to one shot, box out right away and make sure we got the rebound."
Each team had a number of free throw attempts in the final minutes, but poor free throw shooting by both teams - the Chargers were 6-for-16 in the second half and the Greyhounds were 3-for-12 - kept the score within one point until Jensen's game winner.
"It's a great feeling," Jensen said of the victory. "I was a little nervous [at the end], but we all pulled together as a team. I think if we just keep playing as a team, we'll do better and keep improving."
Jacob Gangelhoff finished with 10 points for Cathedral, Michael Skillings had six points and Collin Helget added five points.
Cathedral (1-9, 1-6) will host Cedar Mountain/Comfrey (7-2, 6-0) on Friday.
"We've really got our work cut out for us, but we've got three days to practice," Hazuka said. "We're going to see if we can't fine-tune and get rid of some of the little mistakes and come ready to play on Friday."
MVL (1-12, 1-6) will head on the road to play Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop on Friday.