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Doug Wolter: It pays to consider intangibles

I have not been a very good prognosticator during the winter postseason. I seem to have momentarily forgotten that old sports adage – the one famously repeated by Herm Edwards in an NFL press conference:

“That’s why … they play … the game.”

I’d grown tired of waiting for the talented but disappointing Worthington Trojans boys basketball team to play up to its potential, so I when it caught fire to beat favored Willmar in the first round of the Section 2AAA tournament, it pleasantly caught me by surprise. On the other hand, I told everyone who would listen that there was no way the Trojans could lose to Willmar in the opening round of the 2AAA girls tourney. Shows how much I know.

Who would have thought the Mountain Lake Area boys, with their celebrated big man, Carter Kirk, and a solid supporting cast, would lose to United South Central in the Section 2A South finals? Certainly not me, but they were upset just the same. I was even more certain that I would be covering Southwest Christian in the state tournament this week. But the Eagles were grounded in the Section 3A finals by Canby, 66-59.

Perhaps I fell into the common trap. We cover these area teams throughout the season here at the Daily Globe and think we know them so well we can see their futures. But we’re not so schooled about the teams they’ll meet in the big games. We overestimate them. We underestimate them. We fail to take into account the proverbial “intangibles.” Truth is, I was so enamored with the talent and teamwork of the Southwest Christian Eagles (especially their powerful center, Leighton Sampson), I refused to believe that Canby was their equal. If I had further considered that the Lancers’ starting center, Zach Nuy, would be out of action due to injury, I would have gotten my state tournament hotel reservations right then and there.

Similarly, USC beat MLA without one of its injured starters. USC also hit 12 three-point shots.

In any matchup, it pays to consider all the intangibles. USC didn’t seem to care that it was shorthanded. And the Lancers decided not to forfeit their game with SWC. They came to play, and as Southwest Christian head coach Jamie Pap testified after the end result, the remaining Lancers did more than play. They stepped up.

After Mountain Lake Area lost 63-59 to USC last Tuesday, USC lost to Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City 69-61 on Friday for the Section 2A championship. The WHS boys put together another good effort but lost to Mankato West 80-71 in the 2AAA semifinals at Minnesota State University-Mankato, whereupon West lost in the finals to top-seeded Marshall 68-64 in overtime. The Tigers blew an 11-point lead in the final 3:50 of regulation to force the extended period. If they had been watching the Worthington-West semifinal contest (and I know they were; I saw them sitting there, myself), they would have realized how dangerous the Scarlets could be in a second half.

The Southwest Conference almost qualified two teams for state boys basketball tournaments. There’s Marshall, and there’s almost Redwood Valley. Redwood was seeded No. 1 in Section 3AA North but it lost to Fairmont, the top seed in Section 3AA South, 84-71 in the section finals on Thursday. On paper, Fairmont’s win was no huge surprise — FHS was ranked seventh in the state to Redwood Valley’s six — but on Feb. 13 the same two teams met in the regular season and Redwood Valley prevailed 97-83.

You gotta wonder where the intangibles lined up in the rematch. Thursday’s result put FHS into the state tournament for the first time in 24 years. The winners were no doubt nervous on Thursday (they hit just 13 of 34 field goals in the first half) but they undoubtedly were also determined. They made 16 of 21 fielders in the second half.

So the boys section tournaments have been decided. Not so for the girls.

And I’m making no predictions.

This Thursday, Wabasso and Minneota meet at Southwest Minnesota State University-Marshall (8 p.m.) to decide the Section 3A championship. Also Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State (5 p.m.) Redwood Valley meets Fairmont for a state berth from Section 3AA. And at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Marshall plays Hutchinson for the Section 2AAA crown.

I am most curious about the Wabasso-Minneota contest. The Rabbits (24-2) and the Vikings (29-1) are powerhouses and in the only meeting between the two teams during the regular season, Wabasso prevailed in Wabasso, 51-49. So far, it is the only loss Minneota has taken during the 2013-14 campaign.

I could be wrong about this (and probably am), but I think the intangibles favor Minneota in the rematch.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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