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Section 2AAA boys basketball: Trojans upended by Mankato West

BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Worthington Trojan senior Will Dudley takes off following a steal during Saturday night’s Section 2AAA boys basketball game in Mankato.

MANKATO — The best that the Worthington Trojans had to offer was put on display in Mankato Saturday night. It just wasn’t good enough to withstand a strong second-half performance by the Mankato West Scarlets.

Performing in the semifinals of the Section 2AAA boys basketball tournament at Taylor Center on the campus of Minnesota State University, an underdog WHS squad outplayed second-seeded West in the first half. But the second half was a different story as the Scarlets unleased a deep bench, wore down the Trojans, and came away with an 80-71 victory.

Mankato West advances to play Marshall at 7 p.m. Thursday at Taylor Center for a berth in the state tournament. Worthington finishes the season with a 9-15 record that doesn’t explain the danger the Trojans posed to the rest of the Section 2AAA field.

Last week Tuesday, Worthington blistered third-seeded Willmar 92-88 by scoring 55 points in the second half. On Saturday, all the hallmarks of winning Trojans basketball were on the floor in Mankato — heads-up defense, long-range marksmanship from Spencer Grafing — and most importantly, sizzling penetration, passing and scoring prowess from 6-0 senior guard Marcus Potter, who finished with a game-high 27 points.

Worthington led for most of the first half Saturday and led by 10 points, 33-23, on a pair of gritty rebounds and put-backs by reserve forward Jake Weg. West scored 11 of the final 13 points of the first half, but the Trojans still led, 35-34, at intermission.

In the second half, however, the Scarlets started strong and never let up. Fans knew Mankato West had a deep bench, but the Trojans weren’t quite prepared for how deep it actually was.

“They wore us down and we had some defensive lapses, and they hit some tough shots. But our guys did everything we asked of them. They left it all out there,” said first-year Worthington head coach Jared Keaveny.

“We actually said we wanted to get to their bench. And their bench stepped up and made plays.”

Potter decimated the Mankato West defensive lines with his penetration during the first half and when Grafing hit the first of his two three-pointers at the 5:58 mark, the Scarlets had to be concerned how everything seemed to be falling the Trojans’ way.

But the Scarlets shone in the final two minutes to finish the half with a flourish, and in the second half their reserves stepped up to hurt the Trojans some more.

“We just lacked energy in the second half, I thought,” said Potter.

“We came out a little flat in the second half — a little flat in the first two minutes,” said junior forward Will Mulder.

With 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Scarlets held a 60-51 advantage and either maintained it or increased the lead as reserve players contributed in important ways. One of them, 5-9 freshman guard Jake Makela, hit a three-point shot with under seven minutes remaining to give his team a 68-58 lead. At 6:14 he hit another and it was 71-58. A three-point connection by Mulder at the top of the key brought Worthington within 78-71 with 38 seconds to go, but the Scarlets smartly protected their control of the game.

Mankato West’s fine sophomore forward, Jake Dale, led his team with 24 points. Mulder finished with 17 for Worthington.

“Our defense just wasn’t as good as we needed to be in the second half,” said Keaveny. “The defense in the first half was great.”

Mankato West head coach Tom Boone gave the Trojans due credit, however.

“It takes a lot of energy defending those guys. I don’t think we played real well in the first half. I think we gave up too many offensive rebounds and I don’t think we played well around the rim,” Boone said. “We knew they could score with the basketball and they certainly did. We still think 71 points is too much.”

For most of the season, Worthington showed flashes of brilliance but failed to keep the light shining. The light was in full display against Willmar in the first round of the section tournament. Against Mankato West, however, WHS ran up against a team fully capable of blunting the charge of an underdog team feeling like it could pull off any upset.

Keaveny lauded his seniors for the fight that was in them.

“You gotta give a lot of credit to the seniors. They still wanted their season to count for something,” he said.

Potter, Grafing, Brandon Gray, Jessie Guerra, Ethan Miller, Will Dudley, Carter Lindner and Weg sutited up for the Trojans for the last time Saturday.

Afterward, Mulder summed up the feelings of the junior class: “We didn’t quit as a team.”

Said Potter: There’s no other guys I’d rather play with than these guys.”

Mankato West 34 80

Worthington 35 71

MANKATO WEST (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Dale 0-11-2-24, Makela 3-1-4-15, Stoffel 1-1-0-5, Burmeister 0-2-5-9, Goettl 0-1-4-6, Braun 2-0-0-6, Schlichte 0-1-0-2, Nessler 0-2-2-6, Myers 0-3-1-7. Totals 6 22 18 80.

WORTHINGTON (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Dudley 0-1-2-4, Grafing 2-1-1-9, Potter 2-5-11-27, Mulder 2-5-1-17, Gray 0-0-0-0, Guerra 0-1-0-2, Wolyniec 0-0-2-2, Lindner 0-2-0-4, Weg 0-2-2-6. Totals 6-17-19-71.

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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