A few minutes after defeating Minneapolis North 69-67 in overtime Friday at Macalester College for the Class 1A, Section 4 boys' basketball championship, Jeffrey Wall could barely catch his breath.
The Maranatha Christian Academy coach stood outside the Mustangs' locker room, loosened his red tie and recounted the back-and-forth game that clinched the program's third consecutive season in the state tournament as his players' celebratory shouts echoed from inside.
"I'm still trying to unwind," Wall said. "Jeepers. It was just an epic battle for every loose ball and every rebound."
When Maranatha played Minneapolis North in January, it lost by 29 points. The Mustangs' starting point guard, Damario Armstrong, could only watch from the bench, sidelined because of a right ankle injury.
"It was sad at first, but it gave me a good feeling so I could know what they run and kind of get a feel for what the opposing team does," Armstrong said.
The Polars forced Maranatha to turn the ball over more than normal with Armstrong sidelined in the regular season, but things were different Friday. The junior point guard beat Minneapolis North's press for most of the game, slowing down the pace of the contest.
"We knew that it needed to be a lower-possession game," Wall said. "They're so athletic and fast. … We definitely tried to control the tempo a little bit."
Once the ball crossed half-court, Maranatha's Jeremiah Hanson took over. The senior forward and Division II Colorado Christian recruit scored 33 points, 21 in the first half. Minneapolis North's Isaac Johnson was all over Hanson in the second half and overtime, but it wasn't enough to stop the versatile scorer.
"[Johnson] was in my grill the whole game, but I just had to keep fighting him," Hanson said. "Anything to get the 'W.' "
Annandale 65, Breck 42: The Cardinals upset top-seeded Breck in the Class 2A, Section 5 final at Halenbeck Hall in St. Cloud. Breck led by three at halftime but were outscored by the Cardinals 39-13 in the second half. Forward Chase Knickerbocker led Annandale with 18 points.
Jack Satzinger is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment from the Star Tribune.