PREP BOYS' BASKETBALL: Wolves remain undefeatedLAKE PARK, Iowa — Coming up with a total of 20 team steals and 15 team assists, the ever-hustling Harris-Lake Park Wolves capped a perfect high school boys’ basketball regular season with a convincing 63-24 victory over the visiting Ventura Vikings Tuesday night, winning a second straight Corn Belt Conference championship in the process.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
LAKE PARK, Iowa — Coming up with a total of 20 team steals and 15 team assists, the ever-hustling Harris-Lake Park Wolves capped a perfect high school boys’ basketball regular season with a convincing 63-24 victory over the visiting Ventura Vikings Tuesday night, winning a second straight Corn Belt Conference championship in the process.
The Wolves, who are averaging 63 points per game and allowing just 39, were in control from beginning to end, building quarter leads of 20-5, 30-11 and 48-18.
Four players netted double figures of H-LP, which scored the game’s first 12 points and later utilized a sizzling 21-8 burst over a seven-minute stretch of the second half to put the contest into running time with just under five minutes to play and the Wolves holding a 58-23 advantage.
“We’re at our best when we’re running,” emphasized 11th-year H-LP head coach Jeff Sohn after guiding his team to a fourth Corn Belt title. “We got off to a great start, but were stuck at 28 (points) for a long time before we got rolling again by stepping up our defensive intensity, getting some steals and defensive boards, which allowed us to really push the ball.”
The Wolves can indeed push the ball, as all five starters run the floor well, while handling the ball effectively with either hand.
Sixth man Colin Brons, a 6-4 junior, fits into the mix equally well, as he finished Tuesday’s game with 10 timely points and a trio of impressive assists.
Eli Ihnen, a rugged 6-2 junior forward, displayed his versatility all game long, starting by connecting on a 3-pointer on H-LP’s first possession. He finished the night with team highs in four categories, contributing 18 points, eight steals, six assists and five rebounds to the winning performance.
“He’s a good, strong farm boy, who can go either way with the ball and play inside or outside,” praised Sohn about Ihnen’s abilities on the basketball court.
“It feels great to finish the regular season undefeated,” exclaimed Ihnen, who became a starter for the Wolves midway through last season and has also been a big-time contributor to H-LP’s football success. “We have a bunch of guys who like to play scrappy defense and push the ball when we get it. It’s kind of fun to be able to flip around to different positions in our defenses and offenses.”
The Wolves utilized three different defensive schemes during the game, playing mostly man-to-man, but also showing both an effective 1-3-1 zone, as well as a 2-3 zone.
Offensively, Sohn’s squad ran the fastbreak every chance they could, but also showed an ability to run a variety of half-court sets, featuring lots of cutting and crisp ball movement with sharp passes.
“They are an impressive team with very talented athletes,” declared Ventura head coach Chad Brown about the Wolves. “They get after it on defense and are really good in their man-to-man, but also play both their zones real well as they have good length and cover for each other so well.
“They run a very impressive fastbreak, but can also stretch out a defense with their passing and outside shooting ability. Then they have multiple guys who can penetrate and dish it off. Harris-Lake Park is just a very fine all-around team.”
Ventura finished its regular season with a 6-14 record.
All five H-LP starters score in first quarter
After Ihnen sank his game-opening 3-pointer, 6-2 senior forward Brady Nissen made a free throw and 5-11 senior guard Connor Gunderson converted a steal into a layup and before all the fans had settled into their seats, the Wolves owned a quick 6-0 lead.
A putback by Ihnen, two more free throws by Nissen (13 points) and another basket by Gunderson (assist Ihnen) gave H-LP a 12-0 lead with two minutes and 25 seconds off the first-quarter clock.
After the Vikings scored their first basket (at the 4:48 mark), the Wolves scored again when lightning-quick point guard Kade Heikens, a 5-9 junior, delivered a nifty pass to Nissen for another hoop.
Following a deflection by 6-2 junior center Tanner Hively — who anticipates extremely well in the middle of HL-P’s 1-3-1 — Ihnen went coast-to-coast with the ball and a 16-4 Wolves’ lead.
“Tanner steps in front of a lot of passes as he just works real hard on the defensive end,” praised Sohn of Hively, who has drawn a school-record 16 charges this season.
Hively (10 points, five rebounds, five steals) scored the last two baskets of the first quarter, both times on the receiving end of brilliant passes from Brons.
The Wolves continued to play aggressively in the second quarter, but after working to a 28-5 lead with 5:46 to play in the half, the lid seemed to be on the basket for the hosts who scored only two more points the rest of the period.
A long bounce pass from Ihnen to Brons was a highlight of H-LP’s 8-1 run over the first 2:14 of the second quarter, as was Ihnen’s relentlessness on the boards and Hively’s continual ability to keep the ball away from Ventura’s post players.
Nissen’s steal, Brons’ 3-pointer jumpstart second-half surge
Midway through the third quarter, the Wolves held a 35-13 lead, but a steal and layup by Nissen, followed by a 3-pointer by Brons — off of one of four assists by Heikens — stretched the spread to 40-15 and then a three-point play by Brons on a nicely-executed inbounds play (assist Heikens) made it a 28-point lead.
Heikens later dialed in a 3-pointer of his own (assist Skyler Cudmore) and penetrated and dished off to Hively, who was fouled and converted a pair of free throws as H-LP claimed a 48-18 lead by the quarter’s end.
Two more free throws by Hively were followed by a strong outlet pass from Nissen to Ihnen, who utilized a nifty right-to-left crossover move to convert another Wolves’ fastbreak basket.
After Ventura’s Joel Toppin connected on the Vikings’ only 3-pointer of the night and passed to James Stephenson for a basket, making the score 52-23, H-LP scored three times on breakaways, as Hively and Brons both came up with steals and passed ahead to Ihnen, before Ihnen did the same to Nissen.
The result of those three plays gave the Wolves a commanding 58-23 lead and with 4:58 to play, the 35-point running-time rule went into effect.
Another layup by Hively, a nice drive by 5-10 freshman Brady Van Iperen, a strong defensive rebound by 6-0 senior Jeremy Galvin and a free throw by Van Iperen highlighted the closing minutes for the Wolves, who finished undefeated for the first time since 2001.
After undefeated campaigns in both 2000 and 2001, H-LP also won Corn Belt Conference titles in 2005, 2007 and 2011.
Sohn was the assistant coach in those 2000 and 2001 seasons and was an eighth-grade student manager on H-LP’s conference and district championship squad in 1988, which was the last Wolves’ team to qualify for the state tournament.
Tournament Trail begins Feb. 16
The Wolves have nine days to prepare of its District 5 opener against the winner of the Feb. 13 game between Ruthven-Ayrshire/Graettinger-Terril and Clay Central of Everly. H-LP, the district’s second seed — behind undefeated Storm Lake St. Mary’s — will host that quarterfinal game Feb. 16.
The semifinals are scheduled for Feb. 21 with the championship set for Emmetsburg on Feb. 23.
“This team has some lofty goals,” stressed Sohn. “I don’t think we’re just satisfied with an undefeated regular season.”
Ventura 5 6 7 6 — 24
H-LP 20 10 18 15 — 63
Ventura (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Boehnke 0-1-0-2, Toppin 1-2-1-8, Stephenson 0-2-0-4, Murphy 0-0-2-2, Watson 0-3-1-7, O’Brien 0-0-1-1. Totals 1-8-5-24.
H-LP (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Nissen 0-5-3-13, Gunderson 0-2-0-4, Heikens 1-1-0-5, Van Iperen 0-1-1-3, Brons 1-3-1-10, Ihnen 1-7-1-18, Hively 0-3-4-10. Totals 3-22-10-63.