By Randy Bruns
MARIA STEIN -- The Minster Wildcats didn't dominate all night long against the Marion Local Flyers, but one quarter was all it took.
The Wildcats blitzed the Flyers with a sizzling start as they pulled out to a 13-point lead after just one quarter of play. The visitors simply held serve from there and coasted to a 54-40 Midwest Athletic Conference victory.
The win improves Minster to 11-6 overall and 5-2 in the MAC, which puts the Wildcats just one game out of first place in the loss column. Marion falls to 4-11 on the year and 1-6 in conference play.
For a team that has struggled out of the gate so far this year, the Wildcats looked like the rabbit in a greyhound race in this one. The key for the visitors was a huge early effort from Max Phlipot, as the senior winger racked up 13 points in the first stanza alone.
Phlipot hit all five of the shots he took in the opening frame, including three bombs from behind the three-point arc, and teammates Andy Beckman and Logan Sommer also tallied trifectas to help the Wildcat effort. "We're typically a slow-starting team, so any time you can do that on the road in this league it says something about the kids' preparation," said Minster coach Mike Lee. "We came out of the chute awfully strong and made an early statement. We recognized who had the hot hand so it was good to get (Phlipot) the basketball."
Marion coach Keith Westrick tried to stop the early bleeding with some defensive changes, but nothing worked.
"They came out shooting extremely well, and we knew they could, but they also have had nights where they didn't shoot the ball so well," said Westrick. "We elected to come out in our 2-3 and we switched to man-to-man as quickly as possible but they just kept knocking them down. We knew what we needed to do against their flex (offense) to get out to their shooters, but sometimes in the heat of the battle some guys forget."
After the first quarter flurry things evened up, as the Wildcats outscored the Flyers by just one point the rest of the way. Marion could never put a run together, though, as the Minster lead grew as large as 17 but never got under 10.
"We knew we were going to see some different types of pressure, but I think it favored us a little bit because of our guard-oriented squad," said Lee. "Ultimately, we just needed to keep taking care of the basketball and keep attacking in the spots we needed to. And we made our free throws, which was key for us down the stretch."
The Wildcats hit 19 of their 25 foul shots on the night for a tidy 79 percent, compared to a mediocre 12-of-22 performance from the line by the Flyers.
"If we make more shots from six foot and in and we make our free throws we can get it down to two or four points," said Westrick. "I told the guys afterwards that it's not because they don't practice or because they have bad form, it's just confidence. You just have to step up there and believe in yourself and shoot the shot. They have the capability, but it's just a matter of confidence when they step to the line."
Minster gets a week off before hosting St. John's on Friday. A win there would set up a title bout with league-leading New Bremen the next week. If the Wildcats can win both games they would claim their first MAC title since the 1974-75 campaign.
Marion will travel to Sidney tonight to take on Lehman.