BLAST FROM THE PAST: Marshall memories — tournament action at its best!MARSHALL — For more than a decade, one of the biggest highlights of each year for myself and two of my sons (Chad and Lucas) has been the two days of Section 3 boys’ basketball tournament action at the R/A Facility on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — For more than a decade, one of the biggest highlights of each year for myself and two of my sons (Chad and Lucas) has been the two days of Section 3 boys’ basketball tournament action at the R/A Facility on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.
While I don’t really remember when the three of us started going there for the all-day — four sub-section championship Saturday — extravaganza, I know that we have seen some great basketball games over the years.
The four sub-section (South A, North A, South AA, North AA) title games on Saturday (usually the second Saturday in March) have generally been followed by the two Section 3 championship games on the following Thursday, with the two winners advancing to the state tournament.
Getting time off to travel up to the boys’ state tournament has been difficult, so those six games at Marshall have frequently been two of the best days of the whole year.
Certainly, all six games this year were incredible.
Starting with the Windom vs. Pipestone Area South AA championship at 12:30 (March 13), each of the four sub-section title games was a close and exciting contest.
In the battle between two Southwest Conference rivals that had split during the season, Windom emerged with a hard-fought, 52-48, victory, advancing the Eagles back to the section championship game.
In the second game, the Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Thunderbirds, led by speedster Jay Rogotzke, edged the defending sectional champion Montevideo Thunder Hawks, 61-57.
After a break, the Class A action started, and WOW — what a contest between Minneota and undefeated MACCRAY for the North championship.
In a true classic between a pair of outstanding teams, baskets were traded back-and-forth, with each squad holding several leads. At the end, however, the state’s top-ranked Class A team — representing the communities of Maynard, Clara City and Raymond —pulled away for a 78-66 victory, in a game that was much more competitive than the final score indicated.
That left only tournament-tested Ellsworth and Red Rock Conference rival Hills-Beaver Creek to put the capper on a great day of basketball.
The Panthers and the Patriots — who had already faced each other twice during the regular season, with the home team winning a well-played, close contest both times — put on an awesome display of basketball, battling for the South 3A championship.
H-BC jumped out to an early lead, but Ellsworth rallied with an impressive run to claim a slim halftime lead.
The Patriots played well most of the second half and had several leads, but in the end, the Panthers were just too good and prevailed again, earning another trip back to the section championship game — where they have enjoyed absolutely remarkable success.
Thursday’s title games — awesome!
The biggest lead of Thursday’s (March 18) championship games came during the AA matchup between G-F-W and Windom, when the Thunderbirds went on an offensive rebounding terror and opened up a 44-32 cushion with about 11 minutes to go.
The Eagles, however, rallied with seven quick unanswered points, getting themselves right back in the game. G-F-W, though, stayed steady and maintained a five to eight-point lead over the next eight minutes — until Windom started sinking 3-pointers and benefited from the Thunderbirds missing some free throws.
While the deficit was not nearly as big as the classic comeback by Ellsworth against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the Section 3A championship game on Thursday, March 16, 2006 — it was similar.
More on that EHS vs. R-T-R dramatic finish later.
Windom’s late-game rally Thursday was sparked by a trio of 3-pointers by 5-9 junior guard Levi Gotto, who scored 11 points in the last 102 seconds of the contest.
The Eagles trailed by eight points (55-47) with 1:42 to play when Gotto’s heroics began.
But, after another 3-pointer by Gotto, a pair of free throws by Gotto (fouled on a 3-point shot), an offensive-rebound basket by 6-5 sophomore post Jake Holt (off a missed 3-point shot) and a clutch 3-pointer by 6-0 junior guard Spenser Kipfer (coming off a perimeter screen), Windom was within a single point (61-60) with less than seven seconds on the clock, having electrified its crowd with a 13-6 burst over a span of 1:35.
As they had done on their previous three similar situations, the Thunderbirds made just one of two free throw chances, and with less than five seconds left, Gotto dribbled swiftly down the left sideline and launched a contested shot that hit nothing but the bottom of the net as the buzzer sounded, giving Windom a dramatic 63-62 victory and a state tournament trip.
“It’s been my experience to go with the flow in that situation,” Windom assistant coach Randy Taylor said later. “We like to have the defense playing just as chaotic as we will be with the clock running down.”
Taylor, who coached 27 seasons at Trimont and at Martin County West before taking an 11-year sabbatical and joining his son Tony as an Eagle assistant this year, says that Windom was no stranger to that end of the game situation.
“We had a similar scenario at the end of our Blue Earth game this year and got a shot to go down at the end,” he recalled. “While we don’t like to take timeouts at the end and allow the defense to get set up, we do stress screening the perimeter to get a teammate open for a shot.”
That plan certainly worked well to free up Kipfer (screen set by 6-3 sophomore Lee Holt) for his 21-footer that closed the gap to one.
Then, a few seconds later, Gotto came through with his third clutch 3-pointer of the game’s last 1:42 — ending the chaos.
2006 Ellsworth rally trims 18 points in 4:16
While Windom outscored G-F-W by a 16-7 margin in the final minute and 42 seconds, Ellsworth’s remarkable 2006 comeback against two-time defending state champion R-T-R was more incredible.
The Panthers had fallen behind by a staggering 61-43 margin with just 4:16 on the clock.
Then, starting with a three-point play by sophomore Cody Schilling, Ellsworth began to chip away at the seemingly insurmountable lead.
Aaron Van Der Stoep and Schilling each hit 3-pointers and with 2:45 remaining, the lead was trimmed to 63-52.
A basket by Ben Herman and another three-point play by Schilling closed the R-T-R advantage to nine (66-57) 58 seconds later, as Ellsworth had succeeded in cutting the deficit in half.
But the clock was still on the side of the Knights, who had defeated Ellsworth in the 2004 sectional championship game en route to its first state title.
Herman came up big for the Panthers on R-T-R’s next possession, getting a steal and then scoring on an offensive rebound, making it a seven-point game.
By then, the pattern was being set.
R-T-R was making just one of two free throw chances, and Ellsworth was responding with either a field goal, a 3-pointer or a three-point play.
A pair of drives by Schilling — each after one made free throw by the Knights — made the score 68-63 with 59 seconds left.
A huge 3-pointer by Bryan Kramer kept the Panthers in contention, as R-T-R ace Brett Newton (41 points) sank four straight from the line — breaking the pattern — and putting the Knights up by six, 72-66, with 37 seconds to play.
A 3-pointer by Herman brought Ellsworth to within three, but a Newton free throw lifted the lead back to four.
Then with 10 seconds on the clock, Van Der Stoep delivered again, hitting a contested 3-pointer that made the score 73-72.
Two seconds later, Newton sank two from the line and R-T-R was up 75-72.
But, the Panthers came down court with Schilling handling the ball.
With the Knights doing everything they could to contain the future all-time leading scorer in the state, the Ellsworth playmaker dished the ball over to Herman at the top of the key — behind the 3-point arc.
In a classic catch-and-shoot, the senior post player arched the ball high over R-T-R defender Travis Schultz and swished the buzzer-beating shot that sent the game into overtime, capping an absolutely amazing 32-14 rally — in just over four minutes.
“I saw him (Schultz) coming at me with a hand up,” Herman told Daily Globe sports reporter Lucas Knutson after the game. “I threw it up higher than his hand, and it just went in.”
With the frenzied crowd on its feet and still in awe, the Panthers won the contest in overtime by a final score of 83-80, sending Ellsworth to its third state tournament in a five-year span — and what has turned out to be the first of five in a row for the basketball-crazed town.
With that dramatic comeback included, Ellsworth has won six sectional championships in the past eight seasons, playing in that game a remarkable seven times — missing only in 2005 — since 2003.
Ellsworth’s 2010 win over MACCRAY, not as dramatic, just PBB
While Ellsworth’s recent 76-71 win over MACCRAY was not as dramatic as its 2006 victory over R-T-R or Windom’s last-second triumph over G-F-W, the Panthers prevailed with their typical style of tournament toughness — Panther basketball (PBB).
Facing early deficits of 10-2 and 16-7, the skilled Panthers hustled and executed their way to leads of 36-31 and 56-46, before countering a late Wolverine rally and scoring the last six points of the game to punch their ticket back to the state tournament.
Without question, Ellsworth will again represent the area and Section 3 well at the state tournament.
This year’s Panthers will have a tremendous tradition to uphold.
Since 1999, Section 3 has played in the Class A state championship game 11 consecutive times — winning a total of eight titles.
Southwest Christian won four straight championships from 1999-2002. Ellsworth was runner-up in ’03, R-T-R was state champ in ’04 and ’05, Ellsworth was runnerup in ’06, state champion in ’07 and ’08, and runner-up again in ’09.
How many schools the size of Ellsworth have two state championship basketball trophies and a trio of runner-up trophies?
Edgerton’s 1960 team to be honored Saturday
Nearly the entire 1960 Edgerton team, including coach Rich Olson, is expected to be at Target Center Saturday night for a special ceremony, honoring the legendary Flying Dutchmen and the Austin Packers.
Edgerton defeated Austin, 72-61, for the state championship in the one-class tournament on the exact same date 50 years ago — March 27, 1960.
The introductions will take place at halftime of the Class AAAA championship game.
There will also be a ceremonial jump ball prior to Saturday’s fourth title game.