Marengo boys beats Harvard, avoid Castle Challenge sweep

HARVARD – By the time the Marengo and Harvard boys basketball teams took the court, the Castle Challenge had belonged to the Hornets.

Already winning in girls basketball and wrestling earlier in the day, the home crowd all but had their brooms out hoping for a sweep. But the Indians handled the pressure and noise better early on and held on for a 54-45 Big Northern Conference East Division victory.

“We talked about enjoying the atmosphere,” Indians coach Will Benson said, “but ignoring the noise. All of the adrenaline is great, but after the first two minutes it comes down to executing.”

Like fans at Wrigley Field throwing a home run ball back onto the field, the Marengo student section threw a shirt back to the hardwood that was thrown into the crowd by the Harvard cheerleaders moments earlier. Both groups of fans got louder.

But through the noise, the Indians (11-8 overall, 2-2 BNC East) took an 8-4 lead by the end of the first quarter after taking advantage of six Harvard turnovers.

Marengo continued to score in the second quarter but couldn’t slow down Justin Nolen. The Hornets guard caught fire and scored 12 of his teams 15 second-quarter points, bringing the score within 21-19 at halftime. Nolen finished with 24 points.

“The energy level was so high and it’s one of those things where you just need to go up and down the floor five or six times and it goes away,” Harvard coach Donnie Nolen said. “I was really proud of the way we came back.”

Harvard (7-13, 2-3) relied on Nolen’s hot hand and points from Tate Miller to tied the score at 34 entering the third quarter but Marengo pulled away as the Indians dominated the boards and controlled the ball.

The Indians scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and held Harvard to only two points for the first five minutes of the quarter. Weston Shepard led the Indians with 24 points and went 8 of 10 from the free-throw line to close out the game.

“Weston only made one mistake tonight,” Benson said. “Other than that errant pass, he played an outstanding game.”

WRESTLING

The Harvard wrestling team won nine matches en route to a 50-24 win over Marengo at the Castle Challenge at Harvard.

The Hornets divide the season into thirds and approach each one as a new season. Now in the final third, the Hornets want to end strong and the win over Marengo certainly helped.

Christian Kramer had a quick win for Harvard at 145 pounds, defeating Brett McMackin by fall in 39 seconds.

“I just try to go out and focus each time and do what I need to do to win,” said Kramer while signing a team poster for fans after the meet.

Harvard controlled the meet from the start but Marengo made it interesting with several pins including one from Cory Graham at 126. Graham pinned Joe Quinn in 3:22 to a loud ovation from his teammates.

Graham has lost only six times this season.

“I was doing a little showboating at the end,” Graham said with a smile. “My goal is to win state and each opportunity to move closer to that goal, I have to grab.”

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Marengo coach Nick Rode believes that, in close games, players learn the most and the Indians certainly made it close at the end in a 43-41 loss in the first of the three-sport Castle Challenge at Harvard.

Down by 10 points for most of the first half, the Indians (4-18 overall, 2-4 Big Northern Conference East Division) chipped away at the double-digit deficit and had an opportunity to tie or take the lead with the last shot but had it blocked by Harvard guard Makenna Powell.

“I was really proud that the girls gave their most amount of energy when they should’ve had the least amount there at the end,” Rode said. 

“We’ve been on the winning side and now we’re taking our turn on the other end,” Rode continued.

Lynsey Hoeske and Rachel Tautges each scored 14 points to lead Marengo.

The Hornets jumped out to an early lead behind Abby Linhart’s seven first-half points. She finished with a team-high 13. While pacing the Hornets offensively, she proved to be a factor on the glass as she extended possessions with offensive rebounds and helped turn the ball up court after a defensive board.

“I don’t really think about what I’m doing too much I just play basketball,” Linhart said. But in the last five minutes I start to worry and watch the score. We were so nervous but that last block sealed a huge win.”

For the Hornets (2-13, 1-5), the win was their first in BNC East play.