After the loss to Prior Lake on Nov. 30, East Ridge head coach Josh Peltier said the team's focus is on being their best for March and learning with each game played.
The Raptors boys' basketball used this last week of practice to really focus on the flaws against the Lakers and correct them for another tough game against Park Center on Saturday, Dec. 7. The game was a part of the Breakdown Tip Off Classic and the Pirate were ranked second in Class AAAA, according to Minnesota Basketball News rankings, while the Raptors were ranked fifth.
It was two top-five teams facing off for what hopes to be another rematch in March during the state tournament. East Ridge definitely learned from its mistakes and showed their their strengths on the court.
The Raptors were able to play a well-rounded game on offense and defense to earn the 62-57 win over Park Center on Saturday. The win came from a team that has many new faces on the court, but the mentality and focus are on the same goals as past years.
"The players had three really strong days of practice this past week and focused all their attention on getting better for this game tonight," Peltier said. "Whether we won or lost this game, I was happy with the improvements we made as a team. Obviously it's nice getting a win, especially against a team like Park Center, and hopefully this can help us heading into the conference season."
When the schedule formed during the off season for East Ridge, the first two games were going to be exciting for any East Ridge or basketball fan in general. The Raptors were playing No. 4 ranked Prior Lake and No. 2 ranked Park Center to start the 2019-20 season.
During the Breakdown Big 12 Classic on Saturday, Nov. 30, the Raptors opened up the season against Dawson Garcia and Prior Lake. East Ridge made some runs throughout the game to keep it close, but ultimately the Lakers took control at the end to pull out the 76-60 victory.
The leading scorers from that game were Ben Carlson and Kendall Blue who both scored 19 points. It was expected to see Carlson take on a leadership role this upcoming season as a senior and a highly recruited player nationally.
The Badger commit was already placed in that light from last season, but the surprise came from the sophomore guard Blue. When Kendall Brown transferred to Sunrise Academy during the off season this year, Blue said he realized he was going to take on some type of leadership role.
Blue sat on the bench most of the season for the varsity team last year and played well for the junior varsity team. With only one player from the 2018-19 starting roster returning this season (Carlson), Blue knew it was time to step up as a player and a leader.
"I focused a lot on ball handling and shooting this off season because I knew that was going to be one of my biggest responsibilities this year," Blue said. "It's great to have these seniors to help me with that leadership part and hopefully I can continue to grow this year."
Carlson is one of the seniors on this team, but the Raptors also have three more seniors that have the same leadership roles. Rob Jeter, Nolan Goetz and Brody Kriesel are in the rotating lineup for East Ridge and whether they're on the court or on the bench, their voice is always heard by the players.
That leadership was shown throughout the week leading up to the game against Park Center. The players realized the positives and negatives from the Prior Lake game and they knew it was their responsibility to correct those mistakes.
"We didn't play to our potential as a team last week," Carlson said. "Today, we played together and kept fighting on both ends to make sure we won."
Peltier said the Lakers outworked the Raptors that Saturday and that motivated the players to continue working all week. They never wanted to be outworked again in a game.
At the beginning of the Park Center game, the Pirates took an 11-5 lead and Peltier called a timeout about four and a half minutes into the game. He told the players in the huddle that Park Center was outworking them and that lit a spark under these Raptors players for the rest of the game.
It led to East Ridge going on a 22-12 run to end the first half, which gave the Raptors all the confidence and momentum coming back for the second half. The game continued to be tight between the two teams until Park Center was trailing near the end of the game and had to foul East Ridge.
The Raptors were sent to the free-throw line towards the end of the game, but they were able to convert on the free throws and keep the lead until the final horn. East Ridge earned a 62-57 win over Park Center on Saturday and almost 66% of the points came from Carlson who finished with 40 points.
Blue finished with 10 points, while Kriesel and Ben North ended up with five and four points respectively.
"I was getting a lot of help from my teammates because they found me at the right times where I could score," Carlson said. "This was a great win for our team and this will only build confidence heading into next week with the conference season."
There were a few memorable moments during the game on Saturday including a few dunks from Blue and Carlson that will be remembered throughout the season.
Blue had an incredible dunk with about four and a half minutes left in the first half as he used one hand to throw the ball into the net. Once he connected on the dunk, the gym at Hopkins High School erupted into a frenzy as many people couldn't believe he dunked that ball.
Carlson also had an impressive dunk on a fast break that brought plenty of fans to their feet too.
It was a big win for East Ridge and an opportunity to enjoy some early taste of success, but the Raptors aren't done. Blue said they're motivated and ready for the conference season and continuing to get better each week.
Peltier said this team learned a lot about each other from this win and he's excited to see what happens next week as they prepare for the upcoming conference season.
The Raptors will head to Park for their first conference game on Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. and Peltier said he's excited about being a part of the crosstown rivalry for the first time between these two schools.
"These rivalries are fun and Park has had a lot of close games early this season," Peltier said. "We just need to focus on how we get better on Monday before we think about Tuesday's game."