PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: No. 1 Mustangs pull away, end MLA's state-tournament run
MINNEAPOLIS -- Finishing the game on a 23-10 burst Thursday afternoon, the top-seeded Maranatha Christian Academy Mustangs snapped open a close contest against Section 2A champion Mountain Lake Area in the quarterfinals of Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Class A boys' basketball state tournament, advancing to the semifinals with a 61-44 victory over the Wolverines at Williams Arena.
The Wolverines, who for the first season were a combination of Mountain Lake Public and Mountain Lake Christian High Schools, finish a fine season with an overall record of 24-6, including a repeat sectional championship and a second-place finish (behind undefeated, in league play, Southwest Minnesota Christian) in the highly-competitive Red Rock Conference.
Playing at the fabled state tournament-rich "barn" for a second straight March -- last year as Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin -- the Wolverines rallied numerous times and kept the score close most of the game's first 25 minutes.
"We were not able to play our best basketball all game long, but were certainly challenged a very good team and had some great moments, keeping the score close most of the way," summed up MLA head coach Shawn Nass. "Marantha is an athletic team, which has been highly-regarded all season. We had some real nice spurts and came close several times, but just never could get the lead."
But, after MLA senior forward Josiah Stoesz (14 points, game-leading 16 rebounds) sank a pair of free throws with 11 minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the second half which sliced the Mustangs' lead to 38-34, the Brooklyn Park-based private school pulled away, building leads of 43-34, 48-38, 53-38 and 59-42 to win its 30th game of the season.
Five players netted double figures for MCA (30-1), which was ranked as the state's No. 1 Class A team in Minnesota Basketball News' (MBBN) final poll and also received the tournament's top seed by the vote of the competing coaches.
Utilizing exceptional team quickness and sharp ball movement, the Mustangs started the game strong, surging to an early 11-4 lead in the game's first four minutes.
Garrison Gillard, a 6-2 senior guard, was the catalyst at the beginning, scoring six quick points with a trio of impressive drives. Gillard finished the game with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
In the second half, his younger brother Grantham, a 6-2 sophomore, scored 13 of his team-high 15 points -- including a pair of timely 3-pointers -- to help keep the Mustangs in command.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah Hanson, Isaiah Hanson and Josh Goldschmidt contributed 13, 11 and 10 points, respectively, to the well-balanced MCA performance.
Klassen's five quick points spark early rally
After MCA's early burst, a three-point play off an offensive rebound bucket and free throw by MLA junior guard Cody Klassen helped ignite the Wolverines at the 11:23 mark of the first half. Thirty-eight seconds later, Klassen scored on backdoor cut off a pass from Carter, slicing the lead to 15-11.
"Cody is an athletic kid and gave us a real spark," praised Nass. "He hustled down the floor and battled for rebounds and loose balls."
The Mustangs responded with the next four points, but MLA continued to hustle and play hard.
"Our effort was solid," declared Nass. "We had lots of great efforts by our kids and we battled well nearly the whole game."
Kirk (game-high 20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) scored inside off of one of Andrew Hempeck's game-high five assists and scored again off an assist from Zach Dickens as MCA's lead was 21-15 with 7:50 left in the half.
A mid-range jumper by Kirk and a 3-pointer by Hempeck (assist Kirk) brought the Wolverines to within three, 23-20, with 6:13 on the clock.
MCA answered with five straight points, but Stoesz scored on an inside bucket and later added two free throws, as the Wolverines closed the half on a 7-5 run and trailed by just four, 28-24, at the break.
A shot block by the ever-hustling Klassen was one of MLA's defensive highlights during the strong first-half finish by the Wolverines.
"That was an example of our effort," noted Nass. "We just never gave up. We had kids sprinting the floor and diving for loose balls, as we closed out the first half with a nice run."
Harder's basket opens second half scoring
Fifteen seconds into the second half, MLA senior guard Spencer Harder connected on 10-foot baseline jumper, capping an overall 15-9 run for the Wolverines (after trailing 19-11) and bringing his team within two points.
The Mustangs, however, maintained a two or four-point edge over the next several possessions before opening up a 38-30 lead at the 12:22 mark on a tip-in by Goldschmidt.
A basket by Kirk and two free throws by Stoesz brought MLA to with in four, but a hard baseline drive by Garrison Gillard -- following a Mustangs' timeout -- pushed the lead back to six.
Then after several missed shots -- after battling for offensive rebounds -- by the Wolverines on MLA's next possession, Grantham Gillard drilled a 3-pointer and the momentum began to swing in MCA's favor.
Layups by Stoesz and Kirk closed the gap to seven, 45-38, at the 8:10 mark.
But, a couple of fastbreak baskets and another 3-pointer by Grantham Gillard expanded the lead to 53-38 with 6:18 on the clock.
A dazzling fastbreak from Garrison Gillard to Jeremiah Hanson to Grantham Gillard inside the two-minute mark put the explanation mark on the Mustangs' impressive finish.
Stoesz, Harder, Tyler Friesen, David Lohrenz, Alex Schultz and Darby Harder are six seniors, who the Wolverines will miss next season. But, with Kirk, Hempeck, Dickens, Klassen, Josh Grev, Alex Gerdes, Jose Gonzales, Taylor Duerksen and Josh Fast returning, the Wolverines may likely be a force to be reckoned with again next season.
"We've had two strong seasons in a row," concluded Nass. "We always lose great kids, but look forward to the challenge of competing again with the guys we have coming back."
MARANATHA CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 61,
MOUNTAIN LAKE AREA 44
MOUNTAIN LAKE AREA (24-6): Harder 1 0-0 2; Hempeck 1 0-0 3; Stoesz 3 8-8 14; Kirk 9 2-5 20; Klassen 2 1-1 5. Totals: 16 11-15 44.
MARANATHA CHRISTIAN ACADEMY (30-1): Goldschmidt 5 0-0 10; Gar. Gillard 6 0-2 12; J. Hanson 5 2-2 13; I. Hanson 5 0-0 11; Gran. Gillard 6 1-2 15. Totals: 27 3-6 61.
Mountain Lake Area 24 20 -- 44
Maranatha Christian Academy 28 33 -- 61
3-Point Goals: MLA 1 (Hempeck); MCA 4 (J. Hanson, I. Hanson, Gran. Gillard 2). Rebounds: MLA 38 (Harder, Hempeck 2, Stoesz 16, Kirk 11, Klassen 5, Grev 2); MCA 28 (Goldschmidt 5, Gar. Gillard 8, J. Hanson 3, I. Hanson 5, Cheema , Gran. Gillard 2, Burquest, Monson). Total Fouls (Fouled Out): MLA 9 (none); MCA 12 (none). Technical Fouls: None. Assists: MLA 12 (Harder, Hempeck 5, Dickens, Stoesz, Kirk 4); MCA 15 (Goldchmidt 3, Gar. Gillard 4, J. Hanson 4, I. Hanson 2, Cheema 2). Steals: MLA 4 (Hempeck, Stoesz 2, D. Harder); MCA 10 (Goldschmidt 3, Gar. Gillard, J. Hanson 2, I. Hanson 4). Blocked Shots: MLA 2 (Kirk, Klassen); MCA 7 (Goldschmidt 3, I. Hanson, Gran. Gillard 2, Meyen). Turnovers: MLA 15, MCA 9.