Maranatha Christian Academy excels in the open court. It also can efficiently break down a team while holding the ball.
The No. 1-ranked Mustangs were at their best i n the final 17 minutes, turning a two-point lead into a 61-44 victory over Mountain Lake Area on Thursday in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena.
“We had a good flow in the first half, and let off the gas,” Mustangs senior forward Isaiah Hanson said. “We needed to step on the gas pedal again in the second half, and stay on it.”
Coach Jeff Wall’s squad has used a balanced attack all season in building a 30-1 record. On Thursday, the Mustangs had four starters and their top reserve in double figures.
“All season long we have had four players in double figures and maybe five,” Wall said. “Each guy brings something different to the table.”
Sophomore Grantham Gillard came off the bench to score 15 points, all in the second half. The Mustangs stretched a four-point lead to 13 when he rattled off 13 consecutive points for his team.
“Sometimes young players will take a step back in big games,” Wall said. “Both Grantham and Jeremiah [Hanson, Isaiah’s brother] were aggressive today. They weren’t awe-struck.”
Sophomore Jeremiah Hanson had 13 points, seniors Garrison Gillard and Isaiah Hanson 12 and 11, respectively, and junior Josh Goldschmidt 10. All five starters, including senior Shan Cheema, who didn’t score, had between two and four assists.
“We played better defense in the second half,” Gillard said. “Our defense led to our offense being better.”
The Wolverines (24-6) tried to match Maranatha by pounding the ball inside to Carter Kirk or Josiah Stoesz. They combined for 34 points and 27 rebounds and each had a double-double.
“We came here wanting to play three games,” Wall said. “This is the first step.”
Trojans keep surprising
Rushford-Peterson 72, Lakeview Christian 54: Trojans coach Tom Vix knew he could have something special. In 2014, that is.
His young Rushford-Peterson squad, with just one senior among his top seven players, has exceeded expectations all season. It was no different against the run-and-gun Lions (20-11) in the quarterfinals.
Junior forwards Seth Thompson and Jorli Hauge scored 19 and 18 points, respectively, to lead the seventh-rated Trojans (27-3) over Lakeview Christian. Rushford-Peterson used an 11-0 run in the first half to build a 12-point advantage.
“We were hoping we would be able to make it back to state,” said Thompson, a reserve on last year’s Trojans, who took third place. “We are so young, and small. We knew it was going to be a tough road. For us to be here and have 27 wins, I think that exceeds expectations.”
Lakeview Christian senior guard Anders Broman, the state’s all-time leading scorer, scored a game-high 34 points. He was 13-for-24 shooting. He ended his prep career with 5,119 points.
“That was a tough 34 points,” Vix said. “I thought we played all aspects of the game well, especially defensively.”
Upsala stays unbeaten
Upsala 71, Battle Lake 60: Avery Smieja knows his role is controlling the boards and altering as many shots as possible.
The 6-6 senior center’s play on the defensive end of the court ignited the Cardinals’ offense down the stretch. Upsala’s 16-2 run late in the second half overcame a three-point deficit to knock off the Battlers (22-6) in the quarterfinals.
“Defense is my favorite part of basketball,” Smieja said. “Our coach always says, ‘We have to control the boards to be successful.’ That’s a big role for me being the tallest person on the team.”
Smieja finished with nine points, a game-high 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. Half of those rebounds came during the Cardinals’ closing run, as did three points, a block and an assist.
“He’s been doing that all season for us,” Upsala coach Vern Capelle said. “That was huge for us, limiting them to one-shot possessions and converting on the other end.”
Junior guard Christian Pekarek had 25 points to lead the Cardinals (31-0). Dan Marso, also a junior guard, paced Battle Lake with 14 points.
Eagles come out running
Southwest Minnesota Christian 68, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley 38: The Eagles didn’t waste any time showing how much of a disparity there is between the best teams from Sections 3 and 8. Over the past 14 years, Section 3 has played in 12 state championship games while Section 8 has appeared in one.
“Our section has three to five teams every year that could do well up here,” Eagles senior guard Dominic Nibbelink said. “Unfortunately, only one team gets to make it to the state tournament.”
Southwest Minnesota Christian, last year’s state tournament runner-up, scored the first seven points and never let up. The Eagles (28-1) built a commanding 40-17 lead at halftime. They shot 58 percent in the opening half; Walker-Hackensack-Akeley shot 30 percent.
“Every game we want to get off to a fast start,” Nibbelink said. “We want to take care of any hope the other team has of winning right away.”
Southwest Minnesota Christian junior center Leighton Sampson had 15 of his 17 points before halftime. Nibbelink finished with 16 points.
Junior guard Chris Duff had 13 points and Anthony Fisher 10 to lead the Wolves (27-3), who turned the ball over 24 times. The Eagles scored 32 points off those turnovers.
“We play with a lot of energy and blitzed them early,” Eagles coach Jamie Pap said. “I never have a problem getting our kids ready for a game. They are always amped up and ready to play.”