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Tigers maintain perch atop MBC

Tiger center Michael Jansen (44) scores during last week's 60-47 win over Somerset.

When the New Richmond boys basketball team moved into a tie for the Middle Border Conference lead, Tiger fans looked at the schedule to see what opponents would likely give the Tigers their toughest battle in the rest of the season.

Most fans' eyes stopped at last Thursday's game at Baldwin. The Blackhawks have been one of the Tigers' main antagonists in battles in the upper realm of the MBC in recent years. Fans knew this would likely be the case again, and they were right. Baldwin-Woodville gave the Tigers everything they could handle, but the Tigers were able to eek out a 48-44 win over the Blackhawks.

The Tigers are now 10-1 in the MBC standings, sharing top billing with Osceola. The Tigers' only game this week comes on Thursday, when they play at Prescott. Next Tuesday the Tigers will be at home against Ellsworth. The Tigers also play a non-conference game at home next Monday against River Falls.

Seeding for the WIAA regional tournament bracket is scheduled to be done this weekend. Tiger coach Rick Montreal said the team should be able to make a strong case to get the second seed in the regional. Undefeated Northwestern appears to be a lock for the top seed.

The game at Baldwin on Friday was an excellent test of the Tigers resiliency. B-W took an early lead and Tiger post players Derek Sabby and Michael Jansen both got into early foul trouble. That B-W jumped out on the Tigers didn't surprise Montreal.

"We knew the intensity would be there. Baldwin has had this game marked on their calendar right after the first game was done," Montreal said.

The boys basketball team was one of several New Richmond teams struck by a bug that hit a number of students last week. Guards John Peper and Darren O'Flanagan played at Baldwin, but weren't at peak strength.

With the foul trouble, the Tigers' depth was tested. Jared Kidder and Justice Harvieux stepped into the lineup and helped the Tigers get the game back under control. They contributed eight rebounds and seven points between them in Friday's game.

"They both played some key minutes," Montreal said.

By halftime the Tigers had tied the score at 22-22. In the third quarter, Sabby and Jansen returned to the court and took over. The Tigers outscored B-W 13-6 in the third quarter, with the Tiger post duo scoring all 13 points.

The Tigers led 35-28 entering the fourth quarter and extended the lead early in the quarter. B-W made a strong comeback in the final minutes. The Blackhawks got the margin down to three and missed a three-pointer that would have tied the score. The Tigers then relied on deadly free throw shooting to finish out the win. The Tigers were 9-11 from the line in the fourth quarter.

Sabby led the Tigers with 14 points and eight rebounds on Friday. Lance Bauer scored 10 points and Jansen scored nine points. Bauer played every second of the game to steer the Tigers through a tough battle.

Last Tuesday the Tigers came up with a 60-47 homecourt win against Somerset. This game started out as "The Sabby Show," with the Tiger senior scoring the first eight points of the game.

Sabby quietly does his work, but his play this season has spoke volumes. He's made himself into one of the most valuable and consistent players in the conference.

"Derek's been a rock for us," Montreal said. "Derek doesn't take nights off. He doesn't take practices off. He's worked hard since the end of last season for this success."

After Sabby's hot start, the entire Tiger offense cooled off. Somerset tied the score at 10-10 and the battle was on. The Tigers couldn't find a way to stop Spartan center Bryan Witzmann, who scored 21 points. Montreal said the Tigers did the next best thing, taking away the rest of the Spartan scorers. No other Somerset player had more than five points.

The Tigers used a burst late in the first half to build up a 29-21 halftime lead. The Tiger lead reached double figures in the third quarter. The Tigers then had a brief meltdown late in the third quarter and Somerset cut the margin to four at 39-35.

The start of the fourth quarter saw the Tigers score seven straight points to build the lead to 13. Somerset battled back again, getting the margin down to six points with 1:50 left. A drive, the length of the court, by Tiger senior John Peper ended Somerset's charge.

Sabby led the Tigers with 21 points and seven rebounds against Somerset. Peper finished with 10 points and five assists.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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