Trojans bounce back, beat Jordan 61-54 in Section 2AAA quarterfinal game
WHS seniors Mikele Walu and Abagotte Opiew sparkled down the stretch to provide a proper send-off at Trojan Gymnasium.
WORTHINGTON — Last week during Worthington High’s “Senior Night” the Trojans boys basketball team didn’t really show up.
But Tuesday night in the biggest game of the year WHS seniors Mikele Walu and Abagotte Opiew sparkled down the stretch to provide a proper send-off at Trojan Gymnasium.
Opiew scored 15 points and Walu made a game-winning steal and layup in the closing seconds as Worthington edged Jordan 61-54 in a Section 2AAA quarterfinal game.
Opiew’s 3-pointer with 2:10 to play broke a tie that had stood for over four minutes. After Jordan’s Afton Koch hit a pair from the line to narrow the deficit, Walu nailed two clutch free throws with 31 seconds left.
Jordan worked the ball for a possible game-tying trey, but Walu, the hustling point guard with a star cross country pedigree, came up with a steal and layup that sealed the deal.
An enthusiastic Worthington crowd, which had been silenced last week in the Trojans’ 72-49 loss to Kasson-Mantorville on “Senior Night,” roared its approval and stormed the court as the game ended.
“It means a lot,” Walu said. “It definitely does.”
Worthington advanced to 20-6. The Trojans of coach Clint Meyer, seeded third in Section 2AAA, advance to a Saturday night sectional semifinal game in St. Peter at Gustavus Adolphus against No. 2 New Ulm.
Sixth-seeded Jordan, which received 26 points from Koch, finished its season at 13-13.
The visiting Hubmen led for much of the game, by as many as nine in the first half and by six early in the second. Koch shot 5-for-6 from 3-point range and scored 22 first-half points.
“He was hitting everything,” Walu said. “But we were still in it and knew we had a chance.”
Junior guard Kaleb Knothe scored 11 of his 14 points in the first half as the Trojans stayed close. Opiew had 10 points in the opening stanza, including a steal and slam dunk that rallied the athletic Worthington team.
Jordan’s long-range shooting helped build a 47-41 advantage with 12 minutes to play. The Trojans battled back with a 3-pointer by Zachary Hayenga, three buckets off the bench from strong sophomore Jacari Swinea, and a timely outback by Marenono Opiew, the senior twin of Abagotte.
Swinea’s third basket tied the score at 52 with 6:10 to play. With the intensity building and both teams displaying physical defense, neither scored again until Abagotte’s 3-pointer with 2:09 left.
“When it comes to crunch time I think we play better as a team,” Abagotte said. “We rotate better and play with a little more urgency. I wish we would have played that way the whole game.
“I give (the Hubmen) credit. They shot the ball great, but we battled back and stayed with them.”
Walu, who starred in cross country the past several falls, finished with 10 points for the Trojans.
“He came up huge on both ends of the floor,” said Trojan coach Clint Meyer. “He rarely subs out and has an engine that just goes. It was a good send-off for our seniors at their last home game together.”
The Opiew twins, Walu and Charlie Brands have all been senior starters on what’s been the best Trojan outfit in a long time.
“It feels good,” Abagotte said. “We dreamed about this. We wanted to be good this year and we all put in the work during the summer so we could be better.”
Said Meyer: “We had different guys step up at different times. I thought Jordan played extremely hard. They came out on fire and played great defense.”
But Worthington ultimately prevailed. And so the Trojan will play on, advancing to a Saturday night date with New Ulm in St. Peter.
“This season has been exciting,” Meyer said. “Credit goes to the kids. They’ve been playing hard and buying into what we’ve been coaching. It’s been a really enjoyable season all the way around.”
Jordan 34 54
Worthington 34 61
Jordan (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Seth Noyes 1-0-0-3, Afton Koch 5-3-5-26, Nate Kes 0-1-0-2, Seth Young 1-1-0-5, Carter Runge 2-3-0-12, Mack Schmidt 2-0-0-6. Totals: 11-8-5-54
Worthington (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) — Mikele Walu 0-4-2-10, Abagotte Opiew 3-3-0-15, Marenono Opiew 1-1-4-9, Zachary Hayenga 1-1-0-5, Kaleb Knothe 1-4-3-14, Jacari Swinea 0-4-0-8. Totals: 6-17-9-61.