The Hastings boys' basketball team has won three of their last five and knocked off then seventh-ranked Mahtomedi at home on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 72-62, in what has been the signature win of the season so far. Despite falling at Tartan last Friday, 71-51, the Raiders are on the upswing and are currently 6-8 overall and 3-3 in the Metro East Conference (tied for fifth).
The first half against the Zephyrs saw Hastings dominate inside against 6-foot-10 sophomore Cole Chapman, both scoring and on the boards. The combination of Isaac Rabaey, who scored 14 points in the post, and Levi Zak, who rebounded well and added eight points of his own, helped the Raiders take a 33-28 lead at halftime.
The return of Grant Hollar has helped the Raiders the last few games, but he sat a significant amount of time in the first half with foul trouble. Thankfully, Devon Haraldson continues to play well for Hastings and once again proved to be a steady hand at the point guard spot while also coming up with some important baskets.
The second half saw both sides play physically, but at that point Hastings was able to build their lead thanks to shot making from what seemed like everyone on their roster. Matt Schlottman and Dylan Wagner got hot from three-point range, Sawyer Levos got in on the action and they continued to control the post. The Zephyrs gave the Raiders their best shot at a comeback midway through the second half but were unable to come close as Hastings got to the free-throw line. They were led by Hollar late in the game, as he routinely forced the action on drives to get to the free-throw line and hold off Mahtomedi. Hastings won 72-62 thanks to a well-balanced offense and one of their best defensive efforts of the season.
Four Raiders scored in double-figures, and it easily could have been six. Rabaey led the team with 14 points, Levos had 13, Hollar contributed 12 (most of which came on free throws at the end) and Haraldson added 11. Schlottman had nine points, all on threes, and Zak had a workman-like eight points.
"One of our more complete efforts," head coach Chad Feikema said. "We had nice, balanced scoring and I thought our half-court defense was as good as it's been all season. From start to finish, it was one of our better efforts and I think a big part of that was our communication. We just seemed to be talking a lot better on the defensive end and guys were more engaged."
Levos said that the team was confident heading into the game based on their past experiences with Mahtomedi.
"We know that right now the conference is wide open," he said. "We usually match up well against Mahtomedi and we played them this summer, so we knew kind of what we were going to get. We were confident that if we just played our game and made sure that we get the ball back that we would come out with a win. Once they had to start sending us to the free throw line, we knew we had it."
Feikema said that a big part of the Raiders' recent play has been the resurgence of Hollar, Rabaey and Zak.
"Grant is back and I think that made a big difference for us," he said. "Another big factor is, in the last couple of games now, Isaac Rabaey and Levi Zak have gotten back to play well at the five spot for us, which gives us some inside offense."
With the addition of those three, Hastings has a very balanced offense that Levos attributes to a combination of Feikema's offense and unselfish play.
"We have a very unselfish team this year which is very special," he said. "Nobody cares who scores as long as we win. We know that we have multiple guys that could go off on any given night, which is scary for other teams."
Hollar said that another strength for the Raiders is their pace-of-play.
"I think we do a great job of pushing the ball up the floor in transition," he explained. 'We get a lot of points by running down the floor, getting shooters in the corners and having our big men crash to the basket. One thing that has been a big issue for us all year, though, is getting the ball back when we are on defense. As a team, we are giving up too many offensive rebounds and put-backs. If we can rebound better on defense that will help us get out in transition even more, which I think is our strong suit."