The Orediggers came out of the gates slow on February 2nd in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The Cowboys of New Mexico Highlands climbed to a 17-point lead within the first ten minutes of action. Mines was able to climb their way within four by the conclusion of the first half. It was a team effort, with redshirt senior Ben Clare, redshirt freshman Austin Means and sophomore Michael Glen scoring in double digits. However, it was redshirt senior guard Ben Sonnefeld sealing the deal, dropping 26 points (tied for his career high) including a 3-pointer with 21 seconds in regulation that cemented an 81-79 win for the Orediggers.
“I didn’t think [Brandon Sullivan] was gonna throw it back [to me] to be honest,” said Sonnefeld, thinking back to the last 25 or so seconds of the game.
“He was going to the middle and I thought he was just gonna raise up and shoot it.” Instead of going up for a contested shot, Sullivan got rid of the ball. “I happened to step back in bounds [after passing in the ball],” said Sonnefeld. “He threw it to me, I caught it knew that time was really low, so just one dribble to the left, [and I] knew I had to shoot it. I let it go, and it went in.”
Sonnefeld described the events in a matter-of-fact tone, but the move he made to get a clear shot was impressive enough, let alone the ice-cold blood he had in his veins to execute with the game on the line.
The win against the Cowboys meant a 17th consecutive victory, which ties the Mines program record (set previously by the 2011-12 squad). “We take a lot of pride in it,” said Sonnefeld.
Mines dropped three of its first four game of the season, facing tough non-conference opponents. “Starting the season off the way we did, once we started winning, we gained a lot of confidence,” said Sonnefeld. Since a loss to Nebraska-Kearney on November 18th, the Orediggers have gone over 80 straight days in the win column, thanks to several late-game surges and a huge overtime victory in Grand Junction over Colorado Mesa. “We just take every week one game at a time,” said Sonnefeld, “don’t look too far ahead. Just take care of business every night.”
Taking care of business is exactly what the Orediggers have done, but the way they’ve been doing it is unique. Despite being the second highest scoring on offense, Mines doesn’t have a single player on the RMAC scoring leaderboard. “I think it’s our versatility,” said Sonnefeld. “Just having five guys on the court that can always be a threat and can score.” There really isn’t a weak link anywhere in the Mines depth chart. “We have five guys averaging double figures,” said Sonnefeld. “On any given night anyone can lead us in scoring.” This is a huge reason why the Orediggers have been able to mount comebacks after sometimes cold first halves. “We just stay confident,” said Sonnefeld. “If someone’s having an off night or struggling, we know someone else will pick up that slack. We don’t panic when we’re down.”
A lot of the versatility on this squad is coming from younger players. In the usual rotation of eight or nine guys, only Sonnefeld and Clare are seniors. Going into the season, it was apparent that the underclassmen would make or break this team. “They’re getting a lot of experience and playing time,” said Sonnefeld.
“We’ve had a lot of big shots made by those guys.” Sophomores like Michael Glen (who made a name for himself his rookie season), Mason Baker (who takes pressure off of Sonnefeld in the point-guard role) and Joe Miks have been major shooting threats. Freshmen Brendan Sullivan, Austin Means, and Ben Boone have been contributing as well.
“We’ve got a lot of young talent,” said Sonnefeld, “and when their confidence is up, they can play with anybody in the league.”
With an undefeated RMAC record of 16-0, and only 6 games
left in the regular season, the Orediggers are all but a lock from the NCAA tournament. Even with the results Mines has been earning, there are some things this team needs to polish up before the postseason. “I know teams are getting up to play us,” said Sonnefeld, “so they come out with a lot of intensity and a lot of energy, they make shots early.” Mines has overcome this in conference play by coming out of the locker room at the half with energy on defense, and their offense follows suit. The tougher the competition gets, the harder that game plan will be to execute. “If we can find a way to slow them down in the beginning and be ahead at the half rather than down,” said Sonnefeld, “I think we can parlay that into the second half and keep winning games. Moving into the postseason that’s something that we gotta be ready to do, and keep withstanding those runs from other teams”
The Orediggers went on to defeat Chadron State on the 8th by a score of 90-56, setting a new program record of 18 consecutive wins. Mines hosts New Mexico Highlands in a rematch Mines’ 17-point comeback victory on February 15th, and CSU-Pueblo on the 16th. The Orediggers round out their regular season at the Lock on March 1st against UCCS. Be sure to show out and support one of the hottest teams in college basketball.
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