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Boys Basketball: Cougars sprint to victory

Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Isaiah Nolte (13) goes up for a layup while getting fouled by Goodhue's Sam Opsahl during the first half of Friday's Hiawatha Valley League game at Goodhue. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Goodhue's Mitchell Hemenway puts up a runner over Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Dylan Mollenhauer during the first half of Friday's Hiawatha valley League game in Goodhue. Hemenway had 15 points in the Wildcats' 58-43 loss. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

GOODHUE — Pace.

That was the main key for Friday's Hiawatha Valley League game between Zumbrota-Mazeppa and Goodhue. The Cougars wanted to play the game at a breakneck speed. The Wildcats wanted to put things in slow motion.

"They're very disciplined and help out each other," said Z-M senior guard Isaiah Nolte. "We knew it would be a slower game so we wanted to pick up the tempo by pressing them right away and pushing the ball."

The first half played more to Goodhue's strength. But once Z-M got sprinting, the Wildcats were not going to catch up.

Tied at 26-all in the second half, the Cougars went on a 20-4 run, sealing the team's fourth straight victory in a 58-43 final.

"We got a lot of stuff done with our transition game and our defense," said Z-M head coach Fred Liffrig. "Once we figured out we could go inside on their zone, that was the biggest thing."

Keeping the win streak alive was important enough for Z-M. Beating their Highway 58 rivals for the first time since Feb. 23, 2013, that just made the night better.

"That speaks volumes of their program," Liffrig said of Goodhue. "We were lucky to force them into a few mistakes tonight. The kids knew what was going on, too. It had been a long time."

The first half proved to be a back-and-forth affair. While the Cougars never trailed, they weren't able to pull away with a 26-22 halftime lead.

But with 10 first-half points from both Jacob Niebuhr and Nolte, Z-M's athleticism was apparent. They just needed some momentum to pull away.

It took a bit as two-straight Mitchell Hemenway buckets to open the second half helped Goodhue tie the game at 26-26.

Then, Zach Hutton scored a layup and Robvon Jackson drilled a 3-pointer. From there, Z-M's defensive pressure led to easy transition buckets. With 10 minutes, 31 seconds to play, Nolte hit a 3-pointer to cap off the 20-4 run, giving the Cougars a 46-30 lead.

"We knew we weren't going to let off the gas," Nolte said.

Four players — Nolte (16), Zach Hutton (13), Jackson (11) and Niebuhr (10) — finished in double figures for Z-M.

Both teams came into the game with 3-1 records, and while Z-M has rolled with its core of athletes, Goodhue is adjusting to life without its core of players that led the team to two-straight state appearances. Hemenway led the way with 15 points while Dawson Evenson hit three 3-pointers for nine points.

"We felt pretty good about the first half, being down by four with the foul trouble we did," said Goodhue head coach Matt Halverson. "They did a nice job of getting deflections and we didn't do a good job of ball-faking and bounce passing, all those little things. And those start to accumulate to turnovers. We don't have (the) defense for turnovers up top and we gave up tips for twos."

Both teams will be at the HVL/TRC Showdown Saturday at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. Goodhue (3-2, 1-1 HVL) is set to take on Wabasha-Kellogg at 5 p.m while Z-M (4-1, 2-1 HVL) will take on Plainview-Elgin-Millville at 8:30 p.m.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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