W-WG hustles to victory over SWC in Section 3A showdown
Westbrook-Walnut Grove defeated Red Rock Conference rival Southwest Minnesota Christian Thursday night in the South Section 3A boys basketball semifinals
WORTHINGTON -- Priming themselves for an upset, the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers toppled the No. 1 seed of the South Section 3A boys basketball tournament Thursday night in Worthington, using scrappiness as their song.
The Chargers, seeded fifth in the tourney and going in with a less than stellar 15-12 record, came away with a 64-56 victory in its sub-section semifinal against the Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles. They’ll take on Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, a 65-58 winner over Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in the other sub-section game at the WHS gym, for the south section crown Saturday at 6 p.m. at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
R-T-R, the south’s No. 2 seed, trailed T-M-B 22-7 early but rallied to prevail.
In the first of the two Thursday night games, W-WG and Southwest were even at 49-49 with three minutes remaining. A few seconds later, the Chargers’ Cole VandeWiele scored with his left hand underneath the boards and then -- on the other end, 5-11 junior Kole Curry blocked a shot to give W-WG another possession with the lead. With 1:39 to go, VandeWiele sunk a 3-pointer and the score was 54-49. Not resting on their laurels, the Chargers played aggressively on both ends to protect their lead, and that, they did.
During the regular season, the two Red Rock Conference teams split two games, with W-WG winning a tight one in the first meeting and SWC winning the second one in an 83-43 blowout. The Eagles entered Thursday’s game a confident 23-4.
There may or may not have been as many fans at the WHS gym feeling confident of the Chargers’ chances on Thursday. But head coach Derrick Jenniges and the Charger players were confident enough that they could beat the team that was gunning for its third straight sub-section crown.
“We had to prepare hard. We had to prepare as hard as they do. They brought everything they had. We had to bring everything we had,” said Westbrook-Walnut Grove junior Dan Kleven, who scored 12 points in the contest.
“Playoffs bring a different energy for everybody,” Kleven, a first-year varsity player, said. “Southwest Christian is very aggressive, they go hard for loose balls, and we had to work very hard to get our 50-50 balls.”
The Eagles, who led 27-24 at halftime, had to fight for everything they got against a W-WG team that matched them point for point, drive for drive, and defensive stop for defensive stop. The Chargers’ Brady Ross forced himself through the lane for buckets at least three times down the stretch in the second half. Curry was an outstanding ball-handler and passer, exhibiting excellent quickness and anticipation. Austin Parker, and others, also made clutch plays when it really mattered.
“There really isn’t a secret,” Jenniges explained after the game. “It’s just sometimes the ball goes your way. And the kids bought into what we were trying to do.”
“Nothing really different. We were trying to do less than what we might do that they take advantage of,” he said.
Indeed, the Eagles are famous for turning opponents’ mistakes into victories.
A disappointed SWC coach Jamie Pap credited the Chargers for making it tough for his squad.
“Westbrook controlled tempo. That was the big thing. We just couldn’t get to the rim,” he said. “They just took us out of our game. We couldn’t get into our rhythm. … But it’s definitely hard (to lose). We didn’t expect it. But we didn’t look past them. We never look past anybody.”
The Eagles’ two senior leaders, Carter Van Hulzen and Micah Schaap, finished with 15 points apiece, and Cole Walhof added 10. Curry scored 17 points for W-WG.
“Our goal was to play downhill,” said Jenniges. “We wanted to take the shots. We didn’t care where we were taking them from or who took ‘em. We thought if we could get a certain number of shots, our chances were good.”
Southwest Christian 27 56
Westbrook-Walnut Grove 24 64
SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Uilk 1-0-0-3, Van’t Hof 0-1-0-2, Rieck 0-3-0-6, M.Schaap 0-5-5-15, Van Hulzen 2-2-5-15, Walhof 0-4-0-2, Kuipers 0-1-1-3, A.Schaap 0-1-0-2. Totals 3-17-13-56
WESBROOK-WALNUT GROVE (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Curry 3-3-2-17, Parker 0-5-0-10, Ross 1-5-0-13, VandeWiele 2-2-1-11, Kleven 0-3-6-12. Totals 6-17-9-64.