The Hastings Raiders boys' basketball team was upset by the Burnsville Blaze 67-60 Tuesday, March 6, at Hastings High School. The third-seeded Raiders and the sixth-seeded Blaze played back-and-forth for much of the game until Burnsville was able to open up a late lead, which Hastings could not come back from. With the loss, Hastings finishes the season with a 13-14 overall record and have been bounced from the first round of section playoffs for the third year in a row.
Head coach Chad Feikema said before the game that the Blaze were a better team than their 5-21 regular season record suggested, especially when playing in the South Suburban Conference. That statement proved true as Burnsville played with Hastings from the very start. Also of concern to Feikema was the health of his team, which going in had a couple players playing sick and others injured.
The Raiders started out fast and quickly built a lead over the Blaze. However, Burnsville tightened up on the defensive end and made a run of their own to cut Hastings' lead to 18-17 with just under seven minutes left in the half. The Raiders ended the half trailing 34-31 as Burnsville out-hustled and out-worked Hastings over the last few minutes of the half.
Hastings started the second half quick as well with five straight points from junior Matt Schlottman and managed to take a 51-47 lead with 9:54 left in the game. That lead was built on the back of senior wing Sawyer Levos, who got hot from three, making several in a row to keep the Blaze at bay. As both teams continued to fight, senior point guard Grant Hollar managed to put unbelievable pressure on the Burnsville defense driving baseline and to the basket, drawing plenty of fouls. Also, senior forward Levi Zak had a great game, grabbing offensive rebound after offensive rebound (he had three in one possession at one point) and finished around the rim.
However, the Hastings defense had its own problems as they struggled to contain senior Ty Miklowski and junior Marcus Shepley. Miklowski was a handful in the post while Shepley did major damage in the second half, scoring from all over the floor to help Burnsville take a 61-56 lead with just under three minutes remaining. Hastings made several attempts at a comeback but were unable to make a run at the end. Miklowski and Shepley combined for 53 points.
Feikema said that a lack of depth and an off-night shooting proved difficult for the Raiders to overcome.
"We didn't shoot a very good percentage and we knew we would have to," he said. "A couple guys who we were counting on to make some shots didn't have a good shooting night. A lot of times we've been able to find other guys who would shoot the ball well on that given night, but given the fact we had three guys playing sick that night, one was home sick and another was out with an ACL. Our depth going into the night was not what it was for most of the season."
Levi Zak said that the team was prepared for Miklowski and Shepley.
"Coach Feikema gives us fairly extensive scouting reports so we were about as prepared as we could get," he said. "We just failed to execute what we practiced and we knew that Shepley and Milkowski were good players coming in, we just couldn't seem to stop them."
"That was one of our most disappointing things within the game itself," Feikema said about containing Miklowski and Shepley. "We had scouted them extensively, I think we knew them about as well as anybody could know their team."
"We knew Miklowski and Shepley were the guys to stop going in," he said. "We talked about that a lot, worked on it in practice quite a bit, 'you've got this guy and that guy, which guy do you choose?' and we just made a couple of mistakes there. And I thought Shepley really made some key plays, he caused a little bit of chaos on the defensive end as well."
Hastings continued their well-balanced offense in the loss. They had three players in double figures and a total of eight score. Seniors Levos (16) and Hollar (15) combined for 31 in their last prep games as each put forth monster effort, especially in the second half. Fellow senior Levi Zak added a tough 11 points.
Hastings graduates eight players this spring: senior captains Sawyer Levos and Grant Hollar, Levi Zak, Joe Zak, Teklu Mezgebo, Josh Speak, Griffin Myers and Patrick Curtis.
"It's a group that we're going to miss," Feikema said. "I thought Grant and Sawyer were outstanding as captains. They really bought into the idea of being a servant-leader. The other guys, Levi and Griffin, saw quite a bit of playing time as well. They both started a number of games and played key roles on our team. Levi was probably our best rebounder and had a couple of big games from a scoring standpoint as well in the post. Griffin is a super smart kid who understood his role on the team, knew what he was good at and played his role to its fullest."