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Stingy defense leads Ponies to 2nd round
Times photo: Mark Nesbitt Monticellos Tyler Ritschard goes up for a shot in the lane during Tuesdays regional playoff game against Juda. The Ponies won, 45-28, and will host Williams Bay Thursday.
MONTICELLO - Monticello junior Tyler Ritschard understands there are no style points for winning come tournament time.

The Monticello press didn't force as many turnovers as usual and the help side on defense wasn't always as aggressive as players and coaches would like, but the Ponies stepped up when it mattered most. Ritschard scored a game-high 12 points and Monticello beat Juda 45-28 for the third time this year in a WIAA Division 4 Edgerton regional opener Tuesday night.

"A tournament win is a win," Ritschard said. "Tournament time is when defense comes into play."

And the Ponies certainly did ratchet up the defense in the second half after leading by just seven points at halftime.

After Juda shot 44 percent in the first half, the Ponies clamped down on defense holding Juda to 19 percent shooting in the second half (4-for-21). Monticello (18-3) will advance to the regional semifinals where they will host Williams Bay Thursday night.

"We had some mental breakdowns in the first half," Ritschard said. "We definitely started to play better defense."

Juda coach Kyle Krueger liked the effort he received from his young team, but the Panthers weren't satisfied.

"I think most certainly when you come in as the underdog, you don't want to play to be close," Krueger said. "We came in with a game plan to win. We had to expend so much energy on the defensive end. We knew if we took a possession off they would capitalize. They just made more shots. That's a credit to them. They are a good team."

The Panthers came out and gave the Ponies everything they wanted for the first two and a half quarters. Juda sophomore Joey Jordan scored a layup on the break after beating the press to tie the game at 10 late in the first quarter. Monticello senior Michael Elzen, who gave the Ponies a lift by scoring 10 points off the bench, scored to give the Ponies a 12-10 lead at the end of the period.

"Coach told me that any time I get a shot in the middle, I should not be turning it down," Elzen said. "He said I have a good jumper. It was coach's advice."

Monticello senior Tyler Meier finished with eight points, seven rebounds and three steals. He made 6 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter.

"We knew Juda was going to bring everything they got," Meier said. "It's playoff time. Now, it's cut throat. We know a playoff win is a playoff win. We just have to prep for who we have next."

The Ponies pulled away in the second quarter with a 12-4 run. The spurt was highlighted by Meier's steal, which led to junior Corey McGowan's layup and Ritschard's steal and layup to give the Ponies an 18-12 lead with 6:40 left in the period. Monticello sophomore Lukas Kolasch drove in and hit a jumper with 51 seconds left in the second quarter to give the Ponies a 24-14 lead. Juda sophomore Brandon Bauman drilled a 3-pointer right before halftime to cut the Ponies' lead to 24-17.

The Ponies shot a blistering 61.9 percent (13-for-21) in the first half, but they led by just seven points at halftime. The Panthers were effective at attacking the Ponies' press. The Panthers had just eight turnovers in the game with four in each half.

"Our press didn't force the kind of turnovers we were hoping for," Monticello coach Mark Olson said. "It felt like every time we had one mistake here or there. We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. We were not helping in the first half. We gave them some easy baskets in the paint that we don't like to allow."

Juda junior Bryan Bauman scored eight points and had nine rebounds. Dylan Bauman scored eight points. Juda sophomore Brandon Bauman and Jordan each added six.

"He is so deserving of a good game on a stage like this," Krueger said of Bryan Bauman. "To those who watch the team every day, this is not a surprise. He has been our most consistent player and leader."

McGowan drained a 3-pointer with 5:15 left in the third quarter to give the Ponies a 27-19 lead. The Ponies outscored the Panthers 14-8 in the fourth quarter and made all 8 of their 10 free throws in the final period to seal it.

"We kind of lost our legs," Krueger said. "That's no excuse in game No. 23."