“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.”