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BLAST FROM THE PAST: 100 years of Minnesota high school state boys' basketball tournaments

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HERON LAKE -- With Saturday's selection of the annual Daily Globe All-Area high school boys' basketball team, the excitement of the recent 2011-12 hoops campaign has officially come to an end.

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A week ago tonight, Kentucky held off Kansas and won its eighth NCAA men's basketball title -- followed the next night by undefeated Baylor's victory over Notre Dame in the women's championship game -- putting the capper on another frenzied month of March Madness.

Yes, the NBA still has more than a week of its regular season remaining and the Worthington High School gymnasium will again host a post-season Hoopfest Classic Saturday night, featuring recent members of past all-area teams against the current crop of high school players who are members of the Southwest Minnesota Stars.

And, of course, the two-month long saga of the NBA playoffs is just around the corner.

But the best of basketball -- high school tournament action is once again a "blast from the past."

I was again a lucky guy to be able to take in three straight Saturday's of four games each, as WHS hosted "Super Saturday" for Section 3A South girls' action on Feb. 25 and then did the same for boys a week later on March 3.

The next Saturday was the best yet, as three of my sons and myself spent the whole day at Marshall watching four sub-section championship games.

Only Worthington's convincing victory Fairmont was not closely-contested.

In the other three games, Redwood Valley edged Montevideo, Southwest Christian held off several strong Ellsworth challenges, and Dawson-Boyd was impressive as the aggressive-playing Blackjacks broke open a close game and pulled away from MACCRAY.

On Thursday, March 15, both Worthington and Southwest Christian represented the south sub-section in grand fashion, each earning state tournament trips with dazzling performances in their sectional championship games.

Worthington's 64-43 victory over Redwood Valley in Class AA, avenged a pair of mid-season losses (68-60 and 65-56) to the Cardinals and earned the Trojans their first trip to the state tournament since 1998.

Southwest Christian opened up several big leads on Dawson-Boyd and claimed the Class A title with a 73-55 triumph, sending the Eagles back to Minneapolis for the first time since winning a fourth straight state championship in 2002.

In both those Section 3 title games, Worthington and Southwest Christian each proved that great team defensive efforts produce the right results.

While I was not able to travel to Minneapolis for any of this year's girls' state tournament, I did see some of the action from the championship games on television, marking the fourth straight Saturday that I was "consumed' with high school basketball.

But, the best was yet to come.

Starting on Wednesday evening, March 21, sons Chad, Logan and I "took in" a total of 18 games at the 2012 state tournament.

We actually only seen all of 15 of those games -- eight in Class A, four in Class AA, one in Class AAA and two in Class AAAA. But, we also saw about half of two other AAAA games and half of another AA contest.

That was a lot games -- one at the Gangelhoff Center, four at Williams Arena and 13 at Target Center -- but it was amazing how close most of them were.

Entering Target Center at about 5:10 p.m. on the 21st, we were plenty early for Worthington's scheduled 6 p.m. tipoff against defending state champion Perham.

But, the AAAA quarterfinal matchup between Eden Prairie and Eastview was early in the second half and turned out to be an exciting game. Eden Prairie, sparked by a 41-point performance by junior Grant Shaeffer, rallied to win in two overtimes. We saw the left-handed shooting Shaeffer score at least 30 of his points, as he must have drained eight or nine 3-pointers in the closing minutes of regulation and the two overtimes.

Next up was the Trojans vs. Yellowjackets rematch.

Perham had defeated Worthington, 64-52, in the Trojan/Daily Globe Holiday Classic back on Dec. 27.

A much-improved WHS squad battled the Heart O'Lakes Conference champs to the wire, but fell short in a 51-47 decision.

We only watched the first half of the Litchfield vs. Watertown-Mayer Class AA quarterfinal, as son Lucas -- who had traveled from Marshall (where he's a college student at SMSU) and joined us during the final minutes of regulation in the Eden Prairie vs. Eastview game -- needed to leave so he could get to my brother's house in Edina and type up the Worthington game story for the Globe.

Great Atmosphere at Williams Arena

Lucas went back to college Thursday morning, but Chad, Logan and I spent the day at our favorite place -- Williams Arena.

After top-ranked, top-seeded and undefeated Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa earned a hard-fought win over Lakeview Christian Academy (of Duluth), we watched Section 2A champion Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin represent the area and the Red Rock Conference in fine fashion by putting together a strong second-half run and holding off fourth-seeded Browerville to advance to the state semifinals.

Fosston, the school which won the first state tournament in 1913, came out of the gates on fire and took an early lead on Southwest Christian.

Fosston had defeated Mountain Lake, 29-27, in the championship game of that inaugeral tournament -- and for a few moments it looked like a rematch might be possible for the 100th anniversary.

But, the Eagles were simply too talented, too skilled and too deep. Southwest Christian won convincingly and there were two Red Rock Conference teams in the final four of Class A.

In a game that was much closer than I had anticipated, Prairie Seeds Academy (of Brooklyn Park) stayed right with perennial state tournament entrant Rushford-Peterson. The Trojans of R-P, representing the Three Rivers Conference, eventually prevailed and advanced to the semifinals.

Then it was on to Target Center, as Logan really wanted to see Hopkins -- the three-time defending AAAA champions -- in action again.

Logan is 13 and he's impressed by superstars and superteams.

But this time, Hopkins was not invincable.

In three overtimes, the Royals fell short in a high-scoring contest to Osseo. But the contest epitomized the type of closely-competitive action that we were witnessing game after game.

We then watched Lakeville North's defense put the brakes on Eden Prairie, setting up the Class AAAA championship between the Panthers and Orioles.

That was enough for Day 2, but six games of high school boys' basketball was great entertainment.

Great semifinal games at Target Center Friday

Friday was semifinal day for both Class A and Class AA at Target Center.

Lucas came back and joined us and we were a foursome.

ML/B-O played a great first half and kept right up with B-B-E, but the Jaguars showed how they had won 31 straight games and pulled away after intermision, sending the Wolverines to the third-place game.

The next game was absolutley terrific.

Two of the state's best clashed in dramatic defensive dual.

Rushford-Peterson led most of the game, but the never-say-die Eagles of Southwest Christian rallied to win, giving Section 3 a representative in the Class A state championship game for the 12th in the past 14 tournaments.

Then at night, there was more drama.

First, a low-scoring overtime slugfest between a pair of ball-control offenses with absolutely stingy defenses.

Litchfield, on a buzzer-beating shot by junior Zach Kinny, edged Perham, 33-31, sending the Dragons back to the title game for the first time since their 2003 Class AA title.

An impressive Plainview-Elgin-Millville squad ran the floor well and scored in a variety of ways to claim a big win over the Tyler Vaughan-led Braham Bombers in the second AA semifinal and championship Saturday was set up.

But first on Saturday morning, Lucas and I traveled to Concordia College in St. Paul as ML/B-O tangled with R-P in the third-place game. The Trojans were hot and the Wolverines were not. But after Rushford-Peterson opened up a big halftime lead, Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin finished its outstanding season well with a fine second-half performance and got a chance to play everyone in a state tournament game.

Southwest Christian gave another great effort in the Class A championship clash. But foul trouble, turnovers and uncharacteristic missed shots -- along with some sparkling plays by B-B-E, especially from sophomore guard Brian Goodwin -- led to a state title for undefeated (33-0) Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.

P-E-M and Litchfield played a close first half in the Class AA title game, but the Bulldogs of Plainview-Elgin-Millville dominated the second half and won the consolidated school's first state championship.

We had not seen a Class AAA game yet.

But the one we saw was a dandy.

DeLaSalle of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Washburn battled fiercely throughout, with numerous lead changes in a very close and entertaining game.

Washburn missed two late free throws and a long shot by DeLaSalle missed the mark, sending the game into overtime.

Washburn scored on a drive with about five seconds remaining -- which appeared to be the winning basket. But DeLaSalle's Tyler Moore quickly dribbled the ball down court and tossed a pass to a wide open Luke Scott in the corner. Scott had not scored all game, but his shot swished through the net as the buzzer sounded, giving the Islanders a one-point victory and the AAA state championship.

There was only game left -- the Class AAAA state title game.

With a big crowd on hand, suburban schools Osseo and Lakeville North battled tooth and nail, with several lead swings and knotted scores.

But in the end, it was a corner shot by 6-9 sophomore Ian Theisen -- the coach's son -- which beat the buzzer and swished the nets, snapping a 47-47 tie and giving Osseo the AAAA state championship.

Summing it all up, there were more overtime thrillers and last-second shot victories than I have ever seen at the state tournament.

It was indeed four great days of high school basketball and a fantastic way for the MSHSL to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the glorious and prestigious event which began 99 years ago in 1913 at Carlton College in Northfield.

As a kid in the 1960s, I watched so many memorable state tournament games on television with my family. Now decades later, as an aging adult, it was a thrill to watch so many great games in person with much of my family by my side.

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