As the semifinal competition got tougher, so did Rushford-Peterson.
The top-ranked Trojans defeated seventh-ranked Central Minnesota Christian 62-39 in a Class 1A semifinal game Friday at Target Center. They return to Saturday’s championship game after taking second last season.
The No. 1 seed Trojans (31-1) traded Thursday’s quarterfinal game barrage from the three-point arc for rebounding and tough defense and found similar success.
“We knew that we had play well on defense and get steals,” junior center Matt Culhane said. “Our guards did a great job of that. We had great post play and rebounding, too, and when you to that, great things happen.”
Culhane scored 11 points — double his season average — and added five rebounds in seven minutes of play. Teammate Noah Carlson led the Trojans with 16 points, seven steals and five assists, helping share the load in place of hobbled guard Cole Kingsley.
Kingsley, sporting a brace on his right ankle, scored two points in nine minutes of action.
“It felt great having him out there,” Culhane said. “Even though he didn’t play that much, that senior leadership helps so much.”
Half of Rushford-Peterson’s 36 rebounds came on the offensive end, leading to a 17-8 advantage in second-chance points. The Trojans forced 23 turnovers by No. 4 seed Central Minnesota Christian (24-4).
“Their big kids in the middle are hard to deal with,” Bluejays coach Ted Taatjes said. “But the turnovers were disappointing. We thought we had kids in the right spots but give Rushford-Peterson credit.”
Maranatha 74, Battle Lake 69
Boiling down the difference in a basketball game to a 30-second span is tricky, but Maranatha Christian Academy of Brooklyn Park made its case.
Trailing Battle Lake by two points in the second half, the Mustangs turned a three-pointer, two steals and two baskets into a decisive run. They went on to win 74-69 and earn a spot in Saturday’s Class 1A championship game at Target Center.
A three-pointer from Jake Meyen gave the Mustangs a 43-42 lead it would not relinquish. What happened next — two steals leading to fast-breaks and easy buckets — put momentum on their side. A game tied at half went Maranatha’s way from there.
Jeremiah Hanson finished with 30 points and 10 rebounds. Damario Armstrong scored 15 points and added seven assists. Meyen and Cameron Monson combined for 23 points.
“We knew we had to get up tight and play more aggressive defense to throw them off balance and get them out of their sets,” said Armstrong, who notched three steals in the second half.
Armstrong added flair, connecting on two behind-the-back passes in the second half to provide energy.
“As long as it’s executed properly and he makes the play we’re happy,” Maranatha coach Jeffrey Wall said.
The victory sends Maranatha to its third consecutive state tournament showdown with Rushford-Peterson. The teams split semifinal meetings the past two seasons.
“Whoever has the most grit is going to come out with the victory,” Hanson said.