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South Section 3A boys basketball: W-WG outlasts spirited SWC comeback attempt

Westbrook-Walnut Grove's Wyatt Christians (21), with a gold medal draped around his neck, celebrates with his Charger teammates at the conclusion of Monday night's awards ceremony in Marshall. W-WG edged Southwest Christian for the South Section 3A boys basketball championship. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)

MARSHALL -- Employing a tenacious press defense throughout the second half, the Southwest Christian Eagles chipped away at Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s lead like Michelangelo carving on a masterpiece.

It seemed only a matter of time before the top seed in the South Section 3A boys basketball tournament produced its first lead of the game Monday night at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

Southwest managed to tie the game, 72-72, with 31.1 seconds remaining on a 3-point play (with free throw) by Kade Fey. A Nathan Ross left-handed scoop-in while driving through the middle of the lane put the Chargers back on top by two. Then with less than a second remaining -- 0.7 to be exact -- Southwest junior Jacob Van Dam found himself at the free throw line, shooting three.

He was fouled at the top of the key, and though he missed his 3-point attempt, by making his three free throws he could produce Southwest’s first lead of the game -- and the victory.

Van Dam, an outstanding shooter who’d already scored 11 points in the game, drilled his first charity toss. But he missed the next two, each one bouncing on the rim and out. And the Chargers escaped with a thrilling 74-73 victory.

“It was just crazy. Never played against such a great team as them,” said W-WG senior post Parker Freeburg, who scored 18 points and pulled down several clutch rebounds.

Down by seven, 37-30, at halftime, the Eagles began to press the Chargers all over the court to start the second half. They never let up, but the Chargers never relinquished the lead they established early with a 5-0 run to start the game.

“I don’t think we were rattled very much,” Freeburg said. “We just had to stop and take our breaths. I have to give it to Andrew (Quade) and Ethan (Mischke) taking the ball up as much as they did. I don’t know how they do that.”

Westbrook-Walnut Grove also got a crucial score from Ross, a cool 6-4 junior forward who finished with 17 points, to break the 72-72 tie. Dribbling around the perimeter with the clock winding down, he made a move toward the middle with about 10 seconds to go. Then he used his left hand to shovel the ball through the hoop as he fell onto his back. While on the floor, he saw that the shot went in, and he raised his hands up as if to signal a touchdown.

“I looked up and saw that it was under 10 seconds left. The rule is always to attack it with 10 seconds left. I saw a lane, and I knew I had to attack it. When I looked up and saw that the shot went in, that was incredible,” Ross said.

Only 8.1 seconds remained in the game at that point. It wasn’t over yet, until a few seconds later when it was.

It was a shame, W-WG head coach Derrick Jenniges said, that one team had to lose a contest like that.

“It was such a good game. Jamie (Pap, the Eagles’ head coach) does such a good job. Year to year, they’re the team to beat. To be in the conversation is one thing. To actually win the game is something else,” he explained.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove will take a 22-7 record into the Section 3A finals Thursday night, again at SMSU. The 8 p.m. game will pit the Chargers against Dawson-Boyd, which defeated Lac Qui Parle Valley 68-59 in overtime in the other section semifinal.

Chargers hold firm

“Going into halftime,” said Jenniges, “we knew that (SWC pressure) was going to be the case. It took a while to get there, but we made the shots, we made the free throws in the end. The way the game was played, we knew it was going to come right down to the end.”

Ethan Mischke, a smart and talented 5-11 sophomore guard, led W-WG with 20 points. Freeburg’s 18 and Ross’ 17 provided more balance. Point guard Anthony Quade tallied 12 points.

For Southwest Christian, Isaac Jasper scored 16. Avery Pater had 15 and was excellent defensively throughout. Trey Huisken had 14. Van Dam finished with 12 and Fey had 11.

Both teams converted 10 3-point attempts.

“Just couldn’t quite get it,” said Pap, whose team finished the year with a 22-6 record. During the regular season, the Eagles split a pair of games with their Red Rock Conference rival Chargers.

“They shot the ball too well. Give them credit, they made one more play than we did,” Pap continued. “We couldn’t quite get over the hump and take the lead. It might have been different.”

The Eagles’ goal, Pap said, was to get a quick lead on the Chargers. But it was W-WG that came out strong, scoring the first five points and leading by as much as 25-12 in the early-going on a Quade 3-point shot. The second half was tight and tense. The Chargers, however, refused to fold.

“It just shows that we’re persistent. We weren’t going to let them take the lead,” said Ross.

Added Freeburg, still excited several minutes after the game: “I don’t know if I’m ever going to sleep again.”

Southwest Christian 30 73

Westbrook-Walnut Grove 37 74

SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Huisken 4-1-0-14, K.Fey 2-2-1-11, Pater 1-6-0-15, Jasper 1-5-3-16, J.Van Dam 1-2-5-12, S.Van Essen 0-1-0-2, Decker 1-0-0-3. Totals 10-17-9-73.

WESTBROOK-WALNUT GROVE (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- E.Mischke 5-2-1-20, Christians 0-2-1-5, N.Ross 3-4-0-17, Quade 2-1-4-12, Freeburg 0-6-6-18, Kuehl 0-1-0-2. Totals 10-16-12-74.

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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