“We’re alive. We’ve got work to do.”
So went coach Jay Wendland’s assessment of St. Croix Lutheran’s 37-35 victory against Esko in the Class 2A basketball state tournament quarterfinals Wednesday at Target Center.
The top-seeded Crusaders (29-2) held off a rally by defending champion Esko in the final 40 seconds.
The Eskomos (23-8) held possession the entire time but couldn’t score.
“It all starts with our mental toughness,” said Ade Lamu, a junior guard for St. Croix Lutheran, located in West St. Paul. “I think we did a good job with that. We didn’t lose our composure or get angry.”
St. Croix Lutheran’s halftime lead of 10-7 was enough to drive everyone crazy.
The Crusaders shot just 19 percent, slightly better than Esko’s 16 percent. The teams combined to go 7-for-41 from the field, combining for a score fans could count with their fingers.
“It was just so physical,” Eskomos coach Mike Devney said. “To be 10-7 with the skill level both teams have?”
St. Croix Lutheran will play Melrose in the semifinals Thursday night at Target Center.
Melrose 81, Redwood Valley 66
Melrose guard Dillon Haider fueled the fourth-seeded Dutchmen’s rout of No. 5 seed Redwood Valley thanks to hot first-half shooting. Haider, a sophomore, had 12 points before halftime — nine of them on three-pointers.
“Once I make my first shot, I get into the flow really easily,” Haider said. “I love big games.”
The fourth-seeded Dutchmen (27-5), making their first return to state since winning the 1974 title, went 7-for-12 from the three-point arc in the first half. Tyler Braegelmann led Melrose with 17 points.
Redwood Valley (23-7) got 31 points from Sam Pendleton.
Caledonia 72, Annandale 66
Second-seeded Caledonia returned to the 2A semifinals by avenging a five-point loss to Annandale in last year’s semifinal.
This time the Warriors weren't down by double digits. It overcame a slow start, shooting 37.1 percent in the first half, by producing 31 points off turnovers and second-chance opportunities. The Warriors had a 43-34 edge on the glass with 17 offensive rebounds.
The Warriors (27-4) had four players in doubles figures, led by senior forward Justin Burg with 18 points, nine rebounds and his first high school dunk during the second half that sparked the student section.
Caledonia will face Maple River in the semifinals Thursday at Target Center.
The Cardinals (20-11) shot 37 percent. Senior forward Chase Knickerbocker scored a game-high 24 points on 8-for-21 shooting.
Maple River 78, Breckenridge 72
Maple River overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to defeat Breckenridge.
Third-seeded Maple River (28-3) shot 29.6 percent in the first half but made 13 of 24 shots in the second half.
“We just couldn’t make anything [in the first half],” said senior center Grant Sonnek, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds. “We were just fading away, the ball wasn’t going in, but we just had to keep shooting.”
Maple River controlled the game for the final 12 minutes after a 12-3 run gave the Eagles their first double-digit lead.
Eagles sophomore guard Jeff Lewis had a game high 25 points. Junior guard Ashton Hegge led the Cowboys (21-8) with 17 points.
For more on the tournament, go to our boys' basketball hub.