Southwest Minnesota Christian 71, Upsala 62
Junior forward Leighton Sampson came out of Friday’s Class 1A state basketball tournament game to a standing ovation from a Southwest Minnesota Christian crowd eager to celebrate again at the final horn.
At the same time, Upsala junior guard Christian Pekarek fouled out to claps from fans before they fled the Target Center.
The late-game fates of both team’s leading scorers told the story of the Eagles’ 71-62 victory against previously undefeated Upsala.
With the victory, the third-seeded Eagles (29-1) play No. 1 seed Maranatha Christian Academy (31-1) for the championship at noon on Saturday. The Eagles, winners of four consecutive titles from 1999 to 2002, took second last season.
Sampson, a 6-foot-5 forward who poured in a career-high 33 points, said his teammates “got me the ball pretty well.”
Upsala coach Vern Capelle said, “Even when we’ve played against good post players we’ve usually been able to contain the passes inside or at least give help so the guys don’t get good looks. He’s just so physical and he’s very athletic.”
Pekarek scored a team-high 22 points as Upsala (31-1) suffered the first blemish to its record.
Maranatha Christian 61, Rushford Peterson 46
Maranatha Christian Academy reserve guard Carter Burquest went from delighted to disappointed in a manner of minutes Friday afternoon.
He left the Target Center court knowing his Mustangs defeated Rushford-Peterson 61-46 in Class 1A state basketball semifinal action but wondering about the integrity of his NCAA tournament bracket.
Television near the Mustangs’ locker room showed the Ole Miss upset of No. 5 Wisconsin. Burquest pulled his jersey over his face as his heart sank. A student manager said what Burquest was thinking: “My bracket is destroyed.”
Burquest said he had the Badgers going to the Elite 8. But Maranatha (31-1), located in Brooklyn Park, is headed to its first title game in school history. The Mustangs, ranked No. 1, play at noon on Saturday.
For the second time in as many games, the Mustangs went into halftime with a two-point lead. And they once again broke it open in the second half with strong defense and a productive transition game.
A steal by junior forward Josh Goldschmidt became a fast-break lay-in for senior guard Garrison Gillard. As Gillard pointed down court to acknowledge the pass, a referee signaled a Rushford-Peterson timeout. The two gestures represented a game slipping out of the Trojans’ grasp.
Gillard’s bucket gave Maranatha a 12-point lead the Trojans would never seriously challenge in the game’s final 11 minutes.