MARSHALL -- For the third consecutive year, Central Minnesota Christian is heading to the state tournament.
The Bluejays defeated Westbrook-Walnut Grove 73-37 Thursday night in the Section 3A final to qualify for next week’s boys state basketball tournament.
The Bluejays won Section 3A in both 2015 and 2016, defeating Murray County Central (72-51) last year and Southwest Minnesota Christian (48-44) in 2015.
It’s been 23 years since W-WG has been in the state tournament. Before Thursday’s game, the last time W-WG was in the section final was in 1998. In that game, Central Minnesota Christian defeated the Chargers 54-49.
In the sub-section final, it took a Matthew Van Eps jumper in the final 30 seconds to send the Bluejays to Thursday’s section final. The senior guard made sure the same heroics weren’t needed against W-WG.
Van Eps scored a game-high 22 points to lead the Bluejays. Teammate Austin Marcus added 19 points.
Early on, it was all Van Eps and Marcus. Marcus scored 11 early points and Van Eps had seven as the two combined for the Bluejays’ first 18 points as CMC led 18-8 nine minutes into the game.
After a Parker Freeburg putback on an offensive rebound for the Chargers, the Bluejays scored the next seven points and led 25-10.
Andrew Quade made a free throw for W-WG and Anthony Ross (13 points) hit a shot, but CMC continued to build the lead. Carter Henry made a shot inside and Van Eps hit a jumper as the Bluejays opened up a 33-14 advantage with six minutes remaining until halftime.
Matt DePrez made a basket for the Chargers, but CMC scored the next six to push the lead to 23 points.
Quade answered with a triple, but the next four went to the Bluejays. Ross followed with a pair of free throws and then converted a three-point play, but the Chargers found themselves down 45-24 at halftime.
Out of the break, Van Eps caught fire. He hit three straight 3-pointers to start the half as the Bluejays opened up a 54-26 lead. After a three-point play by Ross, Ethan Brouwer made a shot and Marcus made two baskets as CMC led 60-29.
The Bluejays pushed the lead to 66-30 before Ross made a jumper and Matt Kleven putback an offensive rebound for W-WG. Tyson Elzenga made a triple with four minutes remaining for the Chargers.
But the Bluejays closed out the game to qualify for state for the third consecutive season.