BOYS' BASKETBALL: Eagles soar over Huskies
MARSHALL -- Breaking open a closely-competitive game with a remarkable 25-2 run during a span of eight minutes and 39 seconds Saturday evening, the two-time defending champion Windom Eagles soared to a stunning 62-42 victory over the Jackson Coun...
MARSHALL -- Breaking open a closely-competitive game with a remarkable 25-2 run during a span of eight minutes and 39 seconds Saturday evening, the two-time defending champion Windom Eagles soared to a stunning 62-42 victory over the Jackson County Central Huskies in the Section 3AA South high school boys' basketball championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University.
The impressive win improves the top-seeded Eagles to 23-5 and a third consecutive trip to the sectional championship game, with the winner advancing to the state tournament.
Windom's opponent in Thursday's (8 p.m. at SMSU in Marshall) title clash will be Southwest Conference foe Redwood Valley, which rallied for a 62-60 victory over top-seeded Montevideo in the 3AA North championship contest in Saturday's fourth game in the R/A Facility at SMSU.
Windom, which lost to Montevideo in the title tilt two years ago, qualified for the state tournament last March when Levi Gotto sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, lifting the Eagles to a dramatic, come-from-behind 63-62 victory over Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop.
Gotto, a passionate-playing five-foot-nine senior guard, sparked the Eagles Saturday, netting 15-of-23 free throws and finishing with a career-high 32 points.
Gotto scored 10 of Windom's 19 first-half points, as the Eagles emerged from a low-scoring initial 18 minutes of action with a slim, 19-17, edge.
Then in the second half, he scored four hard-driving layups on the end of Eagle fast breaks and sank 14-of-19 attempts from the charity stripe, giving him 22 points after intermission.
"I like to play at a fast pace and I am out of control sometimes," admitted Gotto after the game. "But, I just went hard to the basket every chance I could and things worked out for us, this time."
Indeed they did.
Third-seeded JCC, which entered the game riding the momentum of a 63-57 sub-section semifinal victory over second-seeded Fairmont two days earlier, had defeated the Eagles by a 61-51 final at Jackson Feb. 8, after leading 27-12 at halftime.
The Huskies, who finished a fine campaign at 18-9, had won 10 of their last 12 games prior to Saturday, including a 77-66 victory over Redwood Valley at Jackson Feb. 18.
JCC's aggressive, trapping zone defensive tactics and quick-paced offensive style had been giving opponents problems, including Windom, which had edged the Huskies in a close game at Windom Jan. 4, 59-58.
But in Saturday's "rubber match" between the two long-time traditional rivals, it was the combined 51 points of Gotto and 6-3 junior forward Lee Holt (19 points, game-high 13 rebounds) that did JCC in -- along with a determined team defensive effort which held the Huskies without a field goal for nearly nine minutes of the second half.
"We didn't make enough shots," summed up JCC head coach Trent Sukalski. "We missed a lot of good shots in the first half and then during that stretch in the second half, we couldn't get one to fall. Give Windom credit, though, for playing great defense and contesting our shooting and for controlling the defensive board, limiting our second-chance shots."
JCC, which did make 11-of-18 free throws (61 percent) was a mere 27 percent from the field (14 of 52), making only seven of 31 shots (23 percent) after intermission.
Windom had a huge rebounding advantage, 38-20, including a commanding 32-6 domination on the Eagles' defensive end.
"We knew that every one of us had to step out and look for people to box out," explained Holt, who scored 13 points in the second-half, including leaping for an 'alley-oop' from Spenser Kipfer (team-high five assists), which gave the Eagles a 34-27 lead at the 10:07 mark, during the early stages of their game-winning surge.
"I am just so proud of all of our kids for our outstanding defensive effort," praised second-year Windom head coach Tony Taylor. "It was our hard work on the defensive end which made it happen for us."
JCC's senior scoring sensation Ty Schwarting did finish with 19 points (seven of 10 free throws), but only made five field goals (two second-half 3-pointers) in 21 shot attempts, as the Eagles alternated man-to-man coverage on the talented all-around player.
"We gave him (Schwarting) some different defensive looks," explained Gotto, who along with seniors Travis Mattson and Joel Riordan took turns defending JCC's 1,000-point plus career scorer. "We tried to work as hard as we could against him and challenge his shots."
Riordan's three-point play, six quick points by Lee Holt trigger 25-2 run
Schwarting scored just three points in the first half, but 12 seconds after the break, he took a pass from Nolan Luhmann and sank a 3-pointer from the right corner, giving JCC a quick 20-19 lead.
Kipfer found Lee Holt for a score and a 21-20 Windom edge, which was increased to 23-20 when Mattson knocked down a contested jumper along the left baseline with 16:30 on the second-half clock.
A putback basket by freshman Jon Harmening 28 seconds later made the score 23-22 as the closeness of the first half continued in the second.
A minute later, a pair of free throws by Schwarting gave the lead back to JCC, before Gotto sank two from the line and Windom had a 25-24 edge with 14:52 to play.
Schwarting's 3-pointer, on a JCC inbounds play, gave the Huskies a 27-25 advantage with 13:13 showing.
It would be the last JCC points until Luhmann made two free throws at the 7:33 mark -- almost six minutes later.
Meanwhile, the Eagles soared.
Riordan, who had claimed several defensive rebounds and had made a key counter steal after the Huskies had stolen the ball in some wild first-half action, converted a timely three-point play (taking a pass from Mattson in the lane), giving Windom a lead (28-27) which it never surrendered.
"Joel played well in the first half," praised Taylor about the team's "sixth man." "Then his three-point play in the second half was huge, as was his defense on Schwarting, while Mattson was resting with four fouls."
Riordan's three points came at the 12:14 mark -- 12 seconds after Taylor had taken a full timeout.
Twenty seconds later, a tough transition layup by Gotto, following a steal by Jake Holt (11 rebounds, two blocks) put the Eagles up 30-27.
Lee Holt muscled up a bucket through an inside trap by the Huskies at the 11:05 mark and 58 seconds later, he caught Kipfer's high over-the-top pass and Windom's fans were going crazy as the Eagles were leading 34-27.
"It's a designed play," explained Lee Holt of the 'alley-oop.' "We've tried it few s before, but this one really worked well."
Meanwhile, the Huskies were missing shots --- or turning the ball over, as a steal (and basket) by Lee Holt increased the lead to 36-27 at the 9:16 mark.
Windom's 11-0 run came to an end when Luhmann sank his two free throws 93 seconds later, but three seconds after that, Gotto was fouled and sank a pair which put the Eagles back up by nine, 38-29.
Lee Holt scored inside (assist Gotto) to make the score 40-29 and with 6:25 on the clock, Gotto sank two more free throws and the margin was 13.
Sixteen seconds later, Gotto scooped up a loose ball and fired a perfect pass to Jake Holt, who converted a three-point play, giving Windom a 45-29 advantage.
"Levi played so well," praised Taylor. "He just plays so hard and with so much passion. He's our engine, the motor which makes us go."
Following a defensive rebound by Lee Holt, a pass up ahead to Riordan and another pass to a streaking Gotto for a break-away layup, the Eagles owned a 47-29 lead with 5:51 on the clock.
A pair of free throws by Gotto, 42 seconds later, and then another one at the 4:28 mark, capped Windom's 25-2 run and gave the Eagles a 21-point advantage, 50-29.
Schwarting converted a three-point play on a nice drive nine seconds later, giving JCC its first field goal -- since his corner 3-pointer had put his team up 27-25 almost nine minutes earlier.
Luhmann's 3-pointer -- following a long rebound by Cody Gettler -- sliced the gap to 15, 50-35, at the 4:04 mark.
But again, Gotto was fouled and sank a pair, increasing the lead back to 17
A clean steal and layup by Gotto gave him 27 points for the game and the Eagles a 54-35 advantage with just 2:52 to play.
Gotto made five-of-eight free throws in the closing minutes and the Eagles also scored on a dandy three-point play by Lee Holt (assist Mattson, who took a pass from Jake Holt) with 1:18 on the clock, which gave Windom its biggest lead, 60-35.
JCC's final seven points came on a putback by Gettler, a three-point play by Schwarting (steal and assist by Logan Hall) and two free throws by Schwarting.
Windom shot a remarkable 76 percent from the field (13 of 17) in the second half, missing only four shots.
For the game, the Eagles were 20-of-33 from the field (61 percent) and made 20-of-29 free throws for 69 percent.
"We took good percentage shots and made most of them," summed up Taylor. "But, I was most pleased with our team defensive effort."
Eagles go up 10-4 early, keep lead through first half
There wasn't a lot of scoring in the first half, which featured many missed shots (and Windom defensive rebounds) by the Huskies, along with a dozen turnovers (several travels) by the Eagles.
Many of JCC's steals, however, were stolen back by the Eagles, who hustled back on defense well throughout the game.
Riordan made one such play with 5:49 to play in the half, which led to a layup by Gotto.
Another big Windom play came from Jake Holt, who sprinted the floor and blocked a layup attempt by Bryce Christopher (six first-half points) after Christopher had come up with one of several first-half steals and passed to Schwarting, who returned a beautiful behind-the-back pass to Christopher.
Holt's block, however, thwarted what appeared to be a dazzling fast break by the Huskies, which would have given JCC an early 6-4 lead at the 14:54 mark.
Christopher, who fouled out with 4:38 to play -- the first time he fouled out all season -- scored on some nice drives prior to intermission and Harmening scored six first-half points, including a hook shot with five seconds to play.
Gotto's 3-pointer from the corner had given Windom a 19-15 lead before Harmening's basket (assist Luhman, who had driven in for a score 30 seconds prior to Gotto's trey).
A 3-pointer by Mattson (assist Kipfer) and a putback bucket by Lee Holt had given Windom a 9-4 edge at the 11:47 mark.
JCC later countered with a pair of baskets by Christopher and two free throws by Harmening, coming within one (14-13) with 3:24 to play before the break.
But a penetrating drive by Gotto pushed the lead to 16-13 with 2:11 left in the half and then Luhmann, Gotto and Harmening all scored in the final 44 seconds, setting the tone for a higher-scoring second half.
"This was disappointing because we had been playing so well," summed up Sukalski. "But, we had a tremendous season with a lot of highlights, including a JCC (since 1997-98) record for wins."
Redwood Valley (20-7) has won six games in a row, since losing to the Huskies. Two of the Cardinals' losses came to Windom (57-32 at Redwood Falls Dec. 21 and 52-39 at Windom Feb. 4), but Redwood avenged an earlier loss to Montevideo (71-63 at Montevideo Jan. 18) with its dramatic victory Saturday.
JCC 17 25 -- 42
Windom 19 43 -- 62
JCC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Gettler 0-1-0-2, Schwarting 2-3-7-19, Christopher 0-3-0-6, Luhmann 1-1-2-7, Harmening 0-3-2-8. Totals 3-11-11-42.
Windom (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Riordan 0-1-1-3, L. Holt 0-8-3-19, Gotto 1-7-15-32, Mattson 1-1-0-5, J. Holt 0-1-1-3. Totals 2-18-20-62.