PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Eagles rally to defeat Mustangs in state finals
MINNEAPOLIS -- For the fifth time in school history, Southwest Minnesota Christian -- based in Edgerton -- is the Class A boys' basketball state champions.
Playing at Target Center Saturday, the Eagles rallied from a seven-point second half deficit to claim the title with an 81-73 victory over Maranatha Christian Academy in a very well-played championship game, which featured 14 lead changes and was tied four times.
Southwest Christian senior guard Dominic Nibbelink, who started for the Eagles in last year's state championship game loss to undefeated Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, scored 10 straight points -- over a span of two minutes and 51 seconds -- midway through the second half, giving his team a 60-58 edge with 7:57 to play.
The Eagles maintained the lead the rest of the way, winning their 26th consecutive game and finishing a remarkable season with a sparkling record of 30-1 -- and the state championship which they nearly had a year ago.
"Playing in the state title game last year, helped us this year," summed up Nibbelink, who -- along with fellow senior guard Klint Knutson -- returned to SWC's starting lineup this season. "I know I wasn't nearly as nervous this year. We were more relaxed and more confident this time."
After scoring six points and distributing four assists in an evenly-played first half Saturday, Nibbelink became the catalyst for the Eagles after intermission.
The versatile six-foot-one-inch performer -- who holds the school's all-time varsity assists' record (393) and is well-known for his patented high-arching 3-point shots from the corners -- scored 23 points, pulled down a trio of key rebounds, passed for three assists and came up with a huge steal in the game's final 18 minutes Saturday.
"Dominic came up big," praised Eagles' head coach Jamie Pap, who is Nibbelink's first cousin. "He picked a great time to play his best all-around game of what has been a tremendous career."
Nibbelink finished the game with 29 points -- on nine-of-12 from the field (two-of-three from behind the arc) and nine-of-13 free throws -- while also passing for a game-high seven assists. Playing in 32 of the game's 36 minutes, he added three rebounds and a steal, while having no turnovers.
"On our team everyone contributes," summed up Nibbelink. "Lots of guys made great plays, it was a team effort like it always is."
Leighton Sampson, a 6-5 junior center, made 11-of-15 shots inside and finished with 22 points, along with five rebounds and a trio of shot blocks.
Nate Pfeifle, a 6-0 junior guard, tallied 12 points (including a pair of timely 3-pointers) and had three rebounds, two steals, an assist and a block.
Eric Talsma, a versatile 6-3 senior forward, who works in "blue collar" fashion game after game for the Eagles, contributed nine points, five rebounds, a steal and an assist.
The ever-hustling Knutson, who puts constant defensive pressure on opposing ball-handlers and does much of the ball-handling for the Eagles, scored seven timely points and had a pair of assists.
Gabe Vander Veen, a 6-2 senior forward, blocked a shot, dished off a pair of assists, claimed a rebound and scored a key field goal during an early Eagles' run in the first half.
Clayton Huisken, a 5-9 junior guard, dished off a pair of assists and came up with two rebounds, while 5-11 senior Kaleb Schelhaas also contributed valuable time on the floor for the Eagles as part of Pap's effective eight-player rotation.
"Every one of our players understands their roles and that has helped us become a better team," summed up assistant coach John Top. "We have played against lots of great individual players this season, including today, but collectively as a team we are hard to beat."
Saturday's championship was the fifth for the Eagles, who won four straight from 1999-2002. Pap, a 1999 SWC graduate, was the starting point guard on that first title team in '99, coached by Cal Hoekstra.
"This one feels great," declared Pap. "I told the kids that I had a blue medal at home from when I played and a red medal (from last year's runner-up finish) as a coach and that another blue medal would really be neat."
The title was the eighth for Section 3A in the 17 years of the four-class system, adopted by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), beginning in 1997.
Vander Veen, Pfeifle key Eagles' first-half run
There were 10 lead changes in the game's first seven minutes and 19 seconds Saturday.
Ten seconds after a television-based timeout, the Eagles took a 14-13 edge when Vander Veen scored off an assist from Huisken.
After a defensive stop, Vander Veen fired a pass out to Pfeifle, who connected on a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Southwest had a 17-13 lead with 9:52 to play in the first half.
Following a turnover by the Mustangs (one of 11 in the game), Huisken fired a pass to Vander Veen who again passed the ball back to Pfeifle.
But this time, Pfeifle faked and drove the lane for a layup, giving the Eagles a five-point edge at 19-14.
"Our coaches always tell us to fake and drive if they come out on you close," explained Pfeifle, who dressed but did not play in last year's title game. "I had just made a long shot, so I thought they were going to contest the next one, so I faked and drove."
The Mustangs, who were ranked No. 1 in Minnesota Basketball News' final Class A poll and were the state tournament's top seed, later trimmed the gap to 23-20, offsetting an inside basket by Sampson (assist Nibbelink) and a beautiful backside cut by Knutson on an inbounds play (assist Nibbelink).
The Eagles then opened up a 29-21 lead on a baseline drive by Nibbelink and a pair of inside hoops by Sampson (assists Nibbelink and Talsma) with 6:37 on the first-half clock.
Mustangs counter with 12-1 surge, lead 37-34 at halftime; open up 51-44 second-half advantage
Southwest's impressive burst was countered by Maranatha, fueled by the scoring prowess of senior Isaiah Hanson (16 first-half points) and with 2:13 to play before the break, the Mustangs had taken a 33-30 lead on the strength of a 12-1 run.
A big-time shot block by the hustling Sampson ignited the Eagles' crowd near the end of that momentum swing and soon the Eagles scored again.
Both Pfeifle and Nibbelink hit jumpers for Southwest in the closing 95 seconds of the half, but a putback by Hanson with a second left sent the Mustangs into intermission with a 37-34 edge.
"It was a battle," declared Pap. "Maranatha has such a good team. They finished the first half very strong, but we kept our poise and continued playing hard. We expected it to be close all the way."
In the second half, the Mustangs opened up a five-point spread at 39-34, but the Eagles recaptured the advantage 41-39 with 15 minutes to play, as Sampson scored three times inside (two assists by Nibbelink, one from Knutson) and Knutson added a free throw.
The middle of those three Sampson baskets was one of the game's highlights, as Nibbelink -- after securing a defensive rebound -- dribbled down the court and fired a perfect lead bounce pass to the streaking Sampson, who completed a dazzling Eagles' fastbreak.
But MCA, who finished with a 31-2 record, scored 12 of the game's next 15 points and with 12:53 left, the Mustangs were up by seven points, 51-44.
A 3-pointer by Nibbelink -- who did not a miss a field goal attempt in the second half -- provided Southwest's only points during that span.
Nibbelink's 10 points key Eagles
A 3-pointer by MCA's Josh Goldschmidt (16 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks, one steal) capped the Mustangs' 12-3 burst over those two minutes and seven seconds.
But, 19 seconds later, Sampson took a sharp pass from Huisken and scored inside, slicing the gap to 51-46. Sampson scored again in the paint at the 12:05 mark and the score was 51-48.
Isaiah Hanson scored for the Mustangs and Pfeifle (assist Nibbelink) scored on another well-executed Eagles' inbounds play and with 11:05 remaining, the Eagles were again back to within three, 53-50.
Nibbelink had been playing well, but over the next three minutes he seemed to enter a new horizon.
At the 10:45 mark, Nibbelink converted a midcourt steal into a layup and the Eagles' were down just one, 53-52.
Sampson blocked another shot, but Jeremiah Hanson scored for the Mustangs and the lead was back to three.
Then, Nibbelink capped a several-pass Southwest possession with a high-arching 3-pointer from the right wing, knotting the score at 55-all with 10:06 on the clock.
Goldschmidt quickly countered with a trey for MCA, but Nibbelink converted a three-point play off a driving jump shot and with 8:13 to play, the game was tied for the last time.
Following a turnover by the Mustangs, Nibbelink scored on a baseline spin move, capping his personal 10-0 scoring run and giving the Eagles a 60-58 lead with 7:57 on the clock.
"That's when I knew we could win," Nibbelink told reporters after the game. "We had been down, but the momentum was going our way and our crowd was getting louder."
Continuing to get defensive stops, Southwest took a four-point lead at the 7:18 mark when Talsma took a pass from Sampson and scored on a reverse layup.
Garrison Gillard scored for the Mustangs, but Nibbelink sank a pair of free throws for a 64-60 lead with 5:55 left.
Jeremiah Hanson responded with a bucket for MCA, but Knutson's driving layup kept the lead at four (66-62) with 5:10 showing.
Once again, Jeremiah Hanson drove for a Mustang's hoop, slicing the lead to two.
Again, Nibbelink answered with a pullup jumper and Southwest was up four, 68-64.
Following a key defensive rebound by Talsma, the Eagles passed the ball well and with four minutes to play, Pfeifle swished a top-of-the-key 3-pointer and the lead was 71-64.
"That was a clutch shot by Nate," praised Pap. "We wanted to work for a good one and he nailed it for us."
Nibbelink and Talsma each sank two straight free throws, lifting Southwest to its largest lead -- 75-64 -- with 2:16 to play.
Isaiah Hanson sparked a late rally by the Mustangs with a pair of long-range 3-pointers, but Southwest maintained leads of 75-67, 75-70, 78-70 and 78-73 before celebrating with its eight-point win.
Nibbelink made four-of-six free throws in the last minute and Talsma scored on an offensive rebound to complete the strong finish for the Eagles, who shot 64.6 percent from the field (31-of-48) and had only five turnovers the entire game.
"We played well, we needed to," summed up Pap, who leaped skyward in jubilation seconds before the final horn sounded.
SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN 81,
MARANATHA CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 73
MARANATHA CHRISTIAN ACADEMY (31-2): Goldschmidt 6 1-1 16; J. Hanson 5 0-0 11; I. Hanson 10 0-0 24; Gar. Gillard 5 4-5 14; Gra. Gillard 3 1-2 8. Totals: 29 6-8 73.
SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN (30-1): Talsma 3 3-4 9; Sampson 11 0-1 22; Pfeifle 5 0-0 12; Knutson 2 3-4 7; Nibbelink 9 9-13 29; Vander Veen 1 0-0 2. Totals: 31 15-22 81.
Maranatha Christian Academy 37 36 -- 73
Southwest Christian 34 47 -- 81
3-Point Goals: MCA 9 (Goldschmidt 3, J. Hanson, I. Hanson 4, Gra. Gillard); SWC 4 (Pfeifle 2, Nibbelink 2). Rebounds: MCA 31 (Goldschmidt 7, J. Hanson 2, I. Hanson 8, Cheema 5, Gar. Gillard 5, Gra. Gillard 2); SWC 21 (Talsma 5, Sampson 5, Pfeifle 3, Nibbelink 3, Vander Veen, Huisken 2). Total Fouls (Fouled Out): MCA 18 (None); SWC 9 (None). Technical Fouls: None. Assists: MCA 9 (Goldschmidt 4, Cheema, Gar. Gillard 2, Gra. Gillard 2); SWC 14 (Talsma, Pfeifle, Knutson, Nibbelink 7, Vander Veen 2, Huisken 2). Steals: MCA 2 (Goldschmidt, Gar. Gillard); SWC 4 (Talsma, Pfeifle 2, Nibbelink). Blocked Shots: MCA 2 (Goldschmidt 2); SWC 5 (Sampson 3, Pfeifle, Vander Veen). Turnovers: MCA 11, SWC 5.