Any team can win a state tournament game when things are going well. It’s the great teams – the championship-caliber teams – that can do it when it keeps stepping in potholes.
Champlin Park did just that, withstanding a terrific effort from Shakopee and its own miscues to pull out a 65-57 victory. The Rebels (31-0) advance to the Class 4A championship game for the first time in team history.
The Rebel did it on a night when Shakopee was nearly-perfect, their best player (J.T. Gibson) was in foul trouble and they trailed by a point, 57-56, with less than two minutes left in the game.
“It wasn’t anything we were doing wrong. It was more what Shakopee was doing,” said Gibson, who finished with a team-leading 18 points and four fouls. “We just had to adjust.”
Shakopee, behind the all-around play of junior forward Steffon Mitchell, jumped out to a 10-2 lead en route to a 31-26 halftime advantage. Mitchell finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Champlin Park mixed its defenses in the second half, creating turnovers and fast-break opportunities. The Rebels regained the lead and held it for most of the second half.
“We had to change things around, get a jump-start,” Champlin Park coach Mark Tuchscherer said.
Mitchell thought that stretch was a big reason why his team lost. “If there was one thing I would change, it would be how we played at the start of the second half,” he said. “We tried to play their game. We tried to play street ball.”
Shakopee remained stubborn, however, and regained the lead on a three-pointer by Booker Coplin with 1:25 left.
Champlin Park responded decisively. Marty Hill, the Rebels’ best offensive threat in the second half, buried a three-pointer with 55 seconds left for a 59-57 advantage. That basket keyed a game-closing 9-0 run.
“We’ve been in close games,” said Hill, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. “That helped us the most. If that hadn’t we hadn’t had that feeling before, we wouldn’t have known what to do.”
Apple Valley 67, Lakeville North 58
There was a cool efficiency to Apple Valley’s textbook-like 67-58 victory over Lakeville North in Thursday’s Class 4A semifinals.
The Eagles didn’t wow anyone with their speed or beat its opponent into submission. That’s not their style. What Apple Valley did is what they’ve done all season: present a complex set problems too varied for opponents to solve completely.
There was 6-foot-11 center Brock Bertram, a space-eater in the lane who scored 11 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and even dished out three assists. And Gary Trent Jr., who carried the offense in the first half, hitting three three-pointers and scoring 13 of his 19 points before halftime.
When Lakeville North took away those options in the second half, Cameron Kirksey stepped up with eight points. All the while, freshman guard Tre Jones was reminding fans of his celebrated older brother Tyus, breaking down the Lakeville North defense off the dribble for 17 points.
“He’s got that gift for controlling a game,” Apple Valley coach Zach Goring said.
The victory may not have been a work of art – Lakeville North’s aggressive play kept Apple Valley from pulling away – but, Trent said, style points don’t matter.
“That’s kind of the team we are,” said Trent. “It can’t be about one person. It’s a team game We all have to play our roles.”
The victory sets up a date with Champlin Park in the Class 4A championship game Saturday. The Rebels beat the Eagles 79-74 in December, a loss the Apple Valley players remember well.
“Oh, definitely, we’ve been thinking about it,” Trent said. “This is for all the marbles. It wouldn’t have been a good season for us if we didn’t get to this point.”