Delano players Damon Longstreet (30), Dalton Pulis (55), Adam Schleper (10) and Zach Muckenhirn (14) celebrated at the end of the game. (Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune)
Delano had been searching for a statement victory and finally found it Tuesday night in front of their home crowd.
The Tigers' first 11 victories of the season lacked the significance that came with Tuesday's 65-62 victory over Waconia. The matchup of two top 10-ranked teams in Class 3A and two of the Wright County Conference's best provided the hype the Tigers (2-1 conference, 12-1 overall) desired.
"I'm pumped right now," Delano forward Dalton Pulis said. "Pretty much the whole year I had been looking forward to [this game]. They're the team you want to beat."
Waconia (2-1, 9-3) had a chance to tie the score as time expired, but missed two attempts. The Wildcats' two losses entering the night were to Class 4A schools Eden Prairie and Prior Lake.
Outside of their 4A opponents, the Wildcats hadn't been challenged much. They climbed to No. 3 in the 3A rankings with quality victories against 4A teams Edina, Chanhassen and most recently Bloomington Kennedy. The 4A-heavy schedule appeared to benefit Waconia in the second half as it rallied back from a 13-point deficit for a chance to tie.
"We made a good effort at the end, but we got in too big of hole," said Waconia's Matt Rachey, who led his team with 17 points and four assists. "We knew they were a good shooting team at home."
The most impressive shooters were Pulis, Zach Checkal and Toby Hanson. Despite being the Tigers' biggest man at 6-7 and admitting to never having shot so well from the outside, Pulis made four first-half three-pointers, five total, to finish with 22 points. Hanson added 18 points and Checkal 16.
The Tigers' late first-half surge led to a very different end compared to the way the half started. Delano went on a 20-4 run in the final seven minutes to build a 13-point halftime lead at 41-28. As the Tigers got hot, the Wildcats didn't score a single field goal in the final five minutes.
"They're easily the best team we've played," Checkal said. "That is a big one for us."