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Milbank escapes with win over Roncalli in season finale

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Keegan Stewart, center, looks for a teammate as Milbank’s Stevie Ash, left and Garrett Mertens, right, close in on defense while the Bulldogs’ Bennett Schwenn (13) looks on during Friday night’s game at the Roncalli High School gym. Photo by John Davis taken 2/25/2022

Aberdeen Roncalli put together as complete a defensive effort as it has all season, but could not hold on in the waning moments of the regular season, falling 51-47 to Milbank Area in a Northeast Conference boys’ basketball game Friday evening at Roncalli Gym.

The Cavaliers hounded the visiting Bulldogs all night long, matching physicality with physicality and generally making life difficult.

But critical miscues in those final few possessions cut short a Senior Night celebration for the Cavaliers.

“The first four minutes of the game (Milbank) had 11 points,” said Roncalli coach Dan Gallagher. “That’s kind of where we want teams to end their quarter. Then we look up at the end of the quarter, and it was (still) 11 points. We really stepped up that last half of the quarter, and I thought our guys executed exactly what we wanted to do defensively. We switched everything and made life pretty difficult for them trying to get to the basket, which is something they’re really good at.”

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, handled Milbank’s trapping press with relative aplomb, committing just four first-half turnovers.

The result was the lead. Keegan Stewart closed the opening quarter with a layup, and Zee Mounga gathered in an offensive rebound and hit a fadeaway as the first half came to a close to send Roncalli into the break with a two-point lead.

“Offensively, after that first quarter, we started to falter and shots didn’t fall for us,” Gallagher said.

Milbank came out in the second half and, if anything, forced the issue even more on drives to the basket, getting to the free throw line 14 times in the second half alone.

Stewart countered with eight of his 15 total points in that third quarter, but the points dried up for the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter.

“We only had 14 turnovers in the game … but unfortunately, two of those came in the last two minutes of the game,” Gallagher said. “Obviously, those stand out a little, but we had some guys who, maybe they turned it over, but without them, we wouldn’t have been in the position we were in (to have a chance to win the game).”

Milbank’s Stevie Ash hit two free throws with 21.9 seconds remaining to essentially ice the game for the Bulldogs. Ash finished with 13 points, as did Garrett Mertens. Bennett Schwenn had 16 to lead the way for the Bulldogs.

In addition to Stewart’s 15 points, Mounga chipped in 14 points. Maddox May had six, and Maddox Miller finished with five. May and Miller were a combined 7-for-7 from the free throw line.

Friday’s loss marked the final game in Roncalli Gym for a pair of seniors, Mounga and Carson Helms.

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Zeezrom Mounga, right, puts up a shot as Milbank’s Wylie Mursu, left, tries to defend during Friday night’s game at the Roncalli High School gym. Photo by John Davis taken 2/25/2022

“It’s tough,” Gallagher said. “Zee has been a staple of this program, starting since he was a sophomore. … You can’t fault his effort. Carson Helms is another one. He didn’t get to play his last two seasons, but he’s another one who’s been a staple of our program. He played a total of two minutes this season, but he never missed an open gym or a practice.”

Roncalli will draw Warner in the first round of the Region 1B tournament, which begins Tuesday.

“We did play Warner earlier this season, and that was without Maddox May,” Gallagher said. “It’s looking to be a good matchup either way. They have some good athletes, but we have some athletes too that can compete.”

MILBANK AREA (9-11): Garrett Mertens 4 5-7 13, Justus Osborn 2 0-0 4, Stevie Ash 4 2-2 13, Bennett Schwenn 5 6-10 16, Kelten Hoeke 1 0-0 3, Karson Weber 0 2-2 2. Totals 16-35 15-21 51.

ABERDEEN RONCALLI (6-14): Maddox Miller 1 3-3 5, Zee Mounga 6 0-0 14, Caden Shelton 1 0-4 2, Keegan Stewart 5 2-4 15, Maddox May 1 4-4 6, Aiden Fisher 1 0-0 2, Jayden Munroe 1 1-3 3. Totals 16-53 10-18 47.

Milbank Area 11 24 37 51

Aberdeen Roncalli 18 26 39 47

3-pt FG – Milbank Area 4-17 (Ash 3, Hoeke); Aberdeen Roncalli 5-20 (Mounga 2, Stewart 3). Fouls – Milbank Area 15; Aberdeen Roncalli 21. Rebounds – Milbank Area 25 (Mertens 6, Schwenn 6); Aberdeen Roncalli 30 (Stewart 7, Mounga 6). Assists – Milbank Area 5 (Osborn 2); Aberdeen Roncalli 6 (Mounga 3). Turnovers – Milbank Area 14; Aberdeen Roncalli 14. Steals – Milbank Area 9 (Ash 3, Mertens 3); Aberdeen Roncalli 8 (Munroe 3). Blocks – Milbank Area 1; Aberdeen Roncalli 1.

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