Like so many teams around the state, the Mora Mustangs boys’ basketball team had the rug pulled out from under them. Due to the coronavirus (COVID- 19) the Minnesota State High School League cancelled all section and state tournament basketball games. Prior to that, the Mustangs put together a great run in the section 6AA tournament culminating with a 57-51 victory over Pine City in the section semi-finals.
The Dragons entered the game with an impressive resume sporting a 26-2 record and averaging 75 points a game. One of those losses was to Mora earlier in the season 63-61. A large crowd at St. Cloud State University anticipated another close game, and that’s what they got.
A close 14-13 game was taken to a double-digit lead by Pine City with a 12-2 run to make it 26-15. Some Mustang turnovers and Dragon three pointers contributed to the run.
Mora closed the gap with an impressive run of their own prior to halftime. Senior, Lucas Athey, scored six consecutive points, and Ben Wright hit a three pointer to quickly close the gap. The Dragons scored a basket at the buzzer to take a 30-28 lead into the locker room.
The Mustangs defense really ramped up in the second half holding the potent Dragons offense to just 21 points. Mora contained Pine City’s top scorers, Seth Logan and Koleman Lind to four and 14 points respectively. Head Coach, Curt Grachek said, “We did a very good job of challenging their shots and making them tough. For the past month or more our defense has played at a high level.”
Mora took the lead with 4:50 left in the game 49-47. The Mustangs slowly pulled away, hitting some key free throws during the final stretch and taking care of the ball to ultimately win by six.
Junior, Ben Wright, led the way with 19 points. Athey followed with 16, including three 3-pointers. Cole Steffen and Jeff Lilienthal had seven points each. Andrew Rasmusson had six points and Garret Honstrom had two.
The section final was set to be played Friday night against Melrose. It was the first time Mora had made the section finals since 2013 and had an opportunity to get to the state tournament for the first time since 1958.
With the Minnesota State High School League cancelling the remainder of the basketball season Coach Grachek said, “It hurt worse than losing a game at the end of the season. We didn’t get a chance to go out and compete. It is a gut-wrenching feeling.”
The Mustangs ended the season with a 22-7 record. “We went from last place in the conference the year before to second place. We improved by 12 wins from the prior season. It was a great season,” said Coach Grachek.
Two seniors played their last game for the Mustangs, Lucas Athey and Cole Steffen. Coach Grachek had nothing but praise for them saying, “It was amazing to see the development of these two. Cole became a premier big man, and Lucas became a fine all-around player that hit many big shots for us.”
In closing Grachek said, “This was the best example of a team that I’ve had an opportunity to coach.”