Apple Valley endured a well-rounded test to earn its first boys’ basketball state championship berth.
Zach Goring’s team had to overcome Eden Prairie’s strength, ability to slow down the game, and then make free throws to secure a 62-55 victory in Thursday night’s Class 4A semifinals at Target Center.
Tyus Jones made four of Apple Valley’s final seven free-throws and finished with a game-high 23 points, six steals and five assists. Dennis Austin had 15 points, eight rebounds, and Dustin Fronk 11 points.
“It’s a great feeling, almost overwhelming,” Jones said about leading his team to the program’s first title game. “Right now, what wins these games is defense and rebounding and that’s what we try to do.”
Apple Valley did both well against one of the state’s more physical teams. Eden Prairie’s deep bench of big bodies wore down Apple Valley’s 6-10 freshman center Brock Bertram. He struggled to finish layups and keep Jack Cottrell (15 points, eight rebounds) and Anthony Anderson (double-double of 11 points, 11 rebounds) away from the basket.
Bertram, however, managed to maintain his presence on the boards (13 rebounds, nine points) and helped create breathing room in the final minutes.
Eden Prairie trailed by a bucket, 53-51, with 2:14 to play. Then Jones scored six of Apple Valley’s 9-4 run to end the game. Eden Prairie started fouling in hope of working its way back.
The strategy didn’t pan out as Apple Valley made 7-of-10 free throws despite shooting 13-of-22 for the game.
“Not only was it my best defensive effort, but the whole team’s effort,” said Apple Valley’s Harry Sonie, who held Eden Prairie’s leading scorer Andre Wallace to six points. “Defense kept getting us stops.”
Apple Valley’s guards forced 18 turnovers and only gave up five. Eden Prairie’s Grant Shaeffer had seven of them and 12 points.
“Our whole game plan was to try and slow down their transition, but they kept transitioning,” Wallace said. “They were tougher than we were.”
Park Center 66, Edina 44
The Pirates didn’t need to put any more exclamation points on their 66-44 semifinal victory over Edina, but their athleticism wouldn’t end.
Senior point guard Quinton Hooker’s natural reaction to longtime teammate Treyton Daniels cutting to the basket is to throw it up. And Daniels throws it down.
Target Center thanked the pair for the display of athleticism with a standing ovation. Before the fans could sit down, Joshua Matthews threw down a one-handed dunk to give Park Center (28-3) a 64-39 lead with 2:56 left.
Hooker’s smile and Edina’s Graham Woodward’s look of disbelief following the string of dunks summarized the semifinal from its tipoff.
“It was a big statement, just to show we’re not backing down from anybody,” Daniels said after his 12-point effort.