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Van Hulzen comes alive late, SWC tops W-WG for Sub-section 3A title

In a tight game dominated by strong defense, the Southwest Christian Eagles outlasted Westbrook-Walnut Grove Tuesday night for the Sub-section 3A boys basketball championship.

032321 N DG Southwest Minnesota Christian vs Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers S3.jpg
Southwest Minnesota Christian Cody Van Hof (11) and Hunter Vander Haar (45) celebrate as another Westbrook-Walnut Grove foul seals the outcome of the Section 3A South basketball game in Edgerton 03 23 21. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

EDGERTON -- Carter Van Hulzen was having a rough shooting night Tuesday in the Sub-section 3A boys basketball final against Westbrook-Walnut Grove. He scored only two points in the first half and hadn’t scored at all in the second half until just a little more than two minutes remained in a 44-44 tie.

But those last two scores were huge.

The first of his back-to-back game-changers came as the 6-5 junior popped a 10-footer to give his Southwest Christian Eagles a two-point lead. Just a few seconds later he put up a 3-point try and made that, too. Suddenly a game that could’ve gone either way was in firm command of the Eagles. They went on to win 54-44.

“I think that was a pretty important play,” Van Hulzen said later, although it wasn’t clear which shot he was talking about. “My teammates gave me good looks. I just couldn’t put the first ones in.”

The 3-pointer was the biggest one of all.

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“I think we finally got ‘em at that point. I think that was the dagger,” he said.

Southwest Christian, which qualified for the state Class A tournament last year with an undefeated record, kept this year’s state tournament hopes alive with Tuesday’s victory in their own gymnasium. Last season, the Eagles were denied the tournament as COVID-19 hit. This year, they’re 19-2 and still aiming high.

With 3:17 to go and the Eagles and Chargers all even, there was a time-out on the floor.

“Carter, down the stretch, during the time-out, he was a little frustrated,” said SWC head coach Jamie Pap. “So I was talking to him, ‘Carter, just relax. The game is 36 minutes and your time is going to come.’”

“And he never scored all day long,” said W-WG coach Derrick Jenniges. “We did a really good job of guarding him. Then he hit that little shot, that 10-footer. And I actually felt good about him taking that shot.”

Westbrook-Walnut Grove entered the game with a 17-3 record and the No. 2 seed in the southern half of the section to Southwest’s No. 1. During the regular season, the Eagles beat the Chargers twice. But the games were tough. They’re always tough against Jenniges’s teams.

“This has been a battle going back with us and them for five years,” Pap said, giving due credit to W-WG’s tenacity.

As usual, Westbrook-Walnut Grove senior Ethan Mischke was the catalyst, the irreplaceable part in the Charger machine. In five seasons as a letter winner on the red and silver Chargers, the team has won 109 games. He scored 18 points in the first half as his squad led 26-25 at halftime, and he finished with 26.

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The Chargers are always better with Mischke’s hands on the basketball. He swishes the 3, he drives through traffic for twisting layups, he makes the perfect pass, and he plays excellent defense. The Chargers played excellent team defense on Tuesday against an opponent that thrives on defense, but they didn’t have enough offense in the end.

“We couldn’t hit that big shot. And they did,” said Jenniges.

Mr. Inside for the Eagles was 6-2 senior Hunter Vander Haar, who scored 18 points and had to work hard for almost all of them. Teammates Dawson Rieck and Micah Schaap scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.

Pap spread effusive praise on the Chargers after the game. He called Mischke “one of the best players I’ve ever had to coach against.” And he praised all the players on the SWC team, saying the bench -- every player, that is -- has worked very hard to make everyone the best they can be.

“The last few games we’ve been scoring 90 points, or something like that. Westbrook took that away from us tonight, but our defense kept us in the game,” he declared.

Van Hulzen had something to declare, too, going all the way back to last season when the unbeaten Eagles didn’t get a chance to play in the state tourney.

“We had to do it for the seniors last year. We had to do it for them. To go to state this year would be huge. We haven’t done it yet, though,” he said.

Southwest Christian will take on Central Christian in Redwood Falls at 7 p.m. on Friday for the Section 3A championship.

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Westbrook-Walnut Grove 26 44

Southwest Christian 25 54

W-WG (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Mischke 4-6-2-26, Kuehl 0-3-0-6, Lien 0-2-0-4, Pilaczynski 0-2-0-4, Parker 0-2-0-4. Totals 4-15-2-44.

SOUTHWEST (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Prins 0-1-0-2, Van’t Hof 0-1-0-2, Schaap 1-3-1-10, Van Hulzen 1-2-0-7, Rieck 3-1-1-12, Vander Haar 0-7-4-18, Walhof 0-1-0-2. Totals 6-16-7-54.

032321 N DG Southwest Minnesota Christian vs Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers S2.jpg
Southwest Minnesota Christian Dawson Rieck (23) drives through Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers defenders Austin Parker (22), Nathan Kuehl (12), Ethan Mischke (5) and Coltin Pilaczynski (45) as he leaps up to shoot for two points during Section 3A South basketball tournament play in Edgerton 03 23 21. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

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