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Blow after Blow: Monticello comes out on top
Monticello’s Carson Gafner blocks Albany’s Brayden Bakken on a second-half fast break. The Ponies overcame a four-point deficit at halftime to defeat the Comets 45-43 in a WIAA Division 5 regional quarterfinal game on Tuesday, Feb. 27. - photo by Natalie Dillon

MONTICELLO — Albany’s game-tying offensive putback bounced off the backboard, hit the rim and trickled out, ending in a 45-43 win for Monticello in a WIAA Division 5 regional quarterfinal game on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

“We knew that we would get every bit of emotion and energy from them (Albany),” Monticello head coach Mark Olson said. “I’m proud of my guys for taking a few blows and not crumbling or backing down.”

This was the third meeting of the two teams this season, as the Ponies and Comets are Six Rivers East Conference opponents. Monticello beat Albany in previous contests 36-22 and 39-29. 

In addition to league ties, the two schools co-op for baseball. The first-year Albany-Monticello girls basketball co-op has also created stronger, off-court bonds between players, who cheer on the ‘Space Stallions’ together.

“It makes it more competitive because you don’t want to lose to each other,” Monticello junior Alex Roe said. “During the game, we have to be enemies, but after the game we can be friends.”

The start of Tuesday’s contest foreshadowed a close ending, as Monticello and Albany exchanged buckets on the first four possessions. 

The Ponies took a slim 7-4 lead with free throws from Roe and Hunter Grossen. 

That’s when the Comets went on an 11-2 run. Miscommunication on defense left Caleb Smith wide-open on the block for two points. Two minutes later, Brayden Bakken drained a 3-pointer off a screen from Nate Stokstad, giving Albany its first lead at 9-7.

Roe tied the game at nine, scoring through contact, but the Comets pressed on.

Bakken got another pick from Stokstad, this time driving to the basket for two. On the next trip down the court, Bakken missed a 3-pointer, but Stokstad was there for the rebound. Two Pony defenders swarmed him, leaving Tyler Patchen open on the opposite block for two points. Drew Sertle and Patchen then executed a pick-and-roll for a 15-9 lead.

“They (Albany) are incredibly patient,” Olson said. “They will work you until you fall asleep. The discipline to keep battling defensivley is what they challenged, and they did a great job of that.”

Just as the Comets were heating up, leading scorer Ty Durtschi picked up his third foul and sat the remainder of the half — five minutes. 

In that time, Monticello slowly crept back into the game. Roe lobbed an inbounds pass to Carson Gafner, who passed right back to Roe in the corner for three. With just under a minute left in the half, Roe went 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. 

Albany thought it would go into the locker room with momentum, as Patchen scored with just 8.3 seconds left on the clock, but Ryer Indergand had other plans.

The senior, who averages 21.6 ppg, was relatively quite with just four first-half points up to that point. He took the ball up the court, pulled up at the volleyball attack line and drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, making it a 23-19 game.

Even though Albany still led, the shot turned the tides to favor Monticello.

“That three that Ryer hit was a killer,” Albany head coach Kurt Soderberg said. “Believe it or not, we’ve worked on that. We should have doubled him. We paid for it.”

The Ponies rode that energy, opening the second half on a 8-2 run to regain the lead. Gafner pulled up in the lane for two, and Indergand completed an old-fashioned 3-point play. Roe then gave Monticello its first lead since 7-4 with a bucket beyond the arc.

The next three possessions, the two teams exchanged the lead with 3-pointers — Durtschi then Grossen, followed by Bakken. 

“Sometimes there’s that pressure to match them,” Bakken admitted. “But we just had to play our game and shots will fall for us — they always do.”

Grossen gave his team the edge with a bucket, assissted by Tyler Constantini. Over a three-minute span, Monticello extended its advantage to 40-33. Gafner made a 3-pointer on a kickout from Indergand, and moments later he scored on a floater. Grossen capped the run with a 3-pointer, as Stokstad gave him too much space.

“I had a lot going through my head, thinking it’s a big game. This is my senior year, and it could be my last one,” Gafner said. “I figured I had to lay it out there and execute what I could.”

In their own three-minute run, the Comets were able to tie the game at 40. Patchen drained a bucket beyond the arc with a kickout from Drew Sertle. Bakken then tipped the ball out of Indergand’s hands at the top of the key, and Caleb Smith grabbed the loose ball and took it back for two points. With just over three minutes left in the game, Durtschi attempted an alley-oop with Patchen. The pass hit the backboard, but Patchen grabbed the rebound and put it in for two anyway. 

Knotted at 40 with three minutes left, Olson called a timeout. Out of the break, Indergand got two screens from Grossen and Roe, but three defenders still swarmed him. The coverage left Roe open for a 3-pointer, giving Monticello the edge.

With the time winding down and fouls to give, Albany committed four fouls in 10 seconds to put Indergand to the line. 

Indergand missed the shot, and on the other end of the floor, Bakken evened the score at 43 with a 3-pointer and 37 seconds remaining.

Monticello quickly responded, as Indergand took the ball the length of the court and scored on a hook shot with 24 seconds left.

Soderberg called a timeout to draw up his team’s final play.

Durtschi chucked up a 3-point attempt with 2.5 seconds left. His missed shot fell into the hands of Smith, whose putback hit the rim and went out.

“We knew coming out of that timeout, we were going to call Nova — a play after Villanova who won a national championship,” Soderberg said. “Ty tried to make a great play, and Caleb got the rebound. I don’t know if he got blocked or fouled — I couldn’t see. He’s heartbroken he didn’t make that.”

Roe led Monticello with 14 points, including three 3s. Grossen chipped in a career-high 12 points with a pair of threes and seven boards. Indergand also scored 12 points. 

Bakken finished his high school career with 17 points, tying a career-high. Patchen also finished in double figures with 13 points. Stokstad led on the glass with five rebounds.