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Section 3A boys basketball: W-WG upends RRC for south title

Westbrook-Walnut Grove boys basketball coach Derrick Jenniges (center) embraces his players as they line up to receive their medals for winning the Section 3A South championship Saturday night in Marshall. (Doug Wolter/Daily Globe)1 / 3
Westbrook-Walnut Grove players come off the floor as bench and fans celebrate near the end of the Chargers' Saturday night victory over Red Rock Central. (Doug Wolter/Daily Globe)2 / 3
Red Rock Central's Spencer Halland is guarded by Westbrook-Walnut Grove's Anthony Ross (33) Saturday at the Section 3A South boys basketball championship. (Doug Wolter/Daily Globe)3 / 3

MARSHALL -- Two losses to Red Rock Central in the regular season didn’t demoralize the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers. They were determined to write a different story in the third meeting.

The Chargers, after falling to their Red Rock Conference neighbors 50-36 and 56-53 in earlier contests, turned the tables Saturday night at Southwest Minnesota State University in the Section 3A South championship. Leading almost the entire way, W-WG prevailed 57-49 to advance to the section final Thursday at 8 p.m. against north champion Central Minnesota Christian.

The winner of Thursday’s game qualifies for the state tournament. Win or lose, however, it’s already been a remarkable year for the Chargers, now 24-4 on the winter campaign.

“It’s been the most wins we’ve had at Westbrook-Walnut Grove since the first time we paired in 1991,” said head coach Derrick Jenniges while watching his troops celebrate by cutting down the net Saturday night. “So it says a lot.”

The Chargers made a grand statement in their third game against the Falcons this season. After leading by just two points, 26-24, at halftime, their matchup zone defense frustrated the Falcons as their lead grew by 10 points with 4:15 remaining in the game. Westbrook-Walnut Grove, the No. 2 seed in the south, made the plays down the stretch to stay ahead of top-seeded RRC.

It was at 4:15 when Red Rock Central’s wide-bodied inside presence, senior 6-5 center Trevor Pederson, fouled out. Without Pederson, and desperately needing to make a scoring run, the Falcons couldn’t do it.

W-WG junior guard Tyson Elzenga, who scored 13 points in the game, said his team was able to dismiss what happened in the regular season and concentrate on the biggest game of all.

“We were going into the game thinking this was the team we had to beat to win the section,” he said.

“Throughout the course of the year we just got better in practice,” said teammate Anthony Ross. “We just said we’ll come out and beat ‘em when it matters.”

RRC missed its first five shots of the game before Pederson scored underneath for a 2-0 lead. But W-WG scored the next eight points to take command.

The Chargers maintained their edge until intermission, but barely. Just before the buzzer, RRC’s Spencer Halland rebounded an air ball by teammate Luke Engen and converted a layup to make the score 26-24.

Leading by just two at the half, the Chargers came out in the second half in a matchup zone, and again the Falcons’ offense sputtered early -- going 5:27 without a score. An Elzenga 3-point shot gave the Chargers a 32-24 edge. Pedersen broke the RRC drought with five straight points, but at 10:12 he picked up his fourth foul.

With just over eight minutes left to play, Red Rock Central clawed to within a point, but no closer. Another Elzenga 3-pointer made it 43-37 at 7:05. At 6:25 a 3-point shot on the right corner next to the W-WG bench by 5-11 sophomore guard Andrew Quade -- his first points of the game -- made it 46-37.

“I could hear my coach on the sidelines say ‘You better make it,’” Quade smiled later.

As Pederson fouled out of the game at 4:15, Ross converted one of two free throws and it was 47-37. RRC’s fine play-making senior guard, Taylor Bunting answered with a 3 to cut it to 47-40, but at 2:29 Quade was fouled intentionally by the Falcons’ Sam Hansen on a fast-break layup opportunity and he made both foul shots. Retaining their possession, the Chargers got another point on a Ross free throw at 1:46, and the score was 52-42. It was all over but the shouting.

Afterward, Jenniges said his team’s second-half defense was an important factor, and his players took advantage of their opportunities in the lane. Attention to detail was also key.

“Just kind of sticking with it. When we were able to score the first basket in the second half, I think it helped us a little bit,” he said.

Elzenga and 6-6 junior Matt DePrez each scored 13 points for Westbrook-Walnut Grove. Ross and Kyle Kuehl each had nine. Senior 6-8 center Cole Bunting had eight.

Pederson scored 13 points for RRC. Halland tallied 10.

“I kind of felt we had control the entire game,” said Ross. “They came back and you gotta give them credit. But we made some big shots down the stretch.”

Said Quade: “Our coach always told us the third time was a charm.”

Red Rock Central 24 49Westbrook-Walnut Grove 26 57
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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