The frustrated frown on Gary Trent Jr.'s face grew deeper as the game went on. Coach Zach Goring's arms spent much of the second half folded tightly in front of him, realizing there was little he could do. This game was supposed to be a steppingstone to Apple Valley's third Class 4A championship in the past four years, but for the Eagles, it was more like an endless slide.
Hopkins, the only team to beat Apple Valley this year, did it again and this time it was emphatic, routing the Eagles 84-60 to advance to Saturday's big-school championship game against Lakeville North. It will be a rematch of the 2014 title game, won by the Panthers 84-82.
"We knew in the past three years, Apple Valley has lost to Park Center and Champlin Park and come back to beat them [in the championship game]," Royals guard Vinnie Shahid said. "We had a big grudge on our shoulders."
Grudge, chip, whatever. Hopkins had it in spades. The Royals (30-1) raced out to an 18-7 lead, shocking Apple Valley. Guard Xavier Johnson was the catalyst, scoring 11 of his game-high 24 points in that salvo.
"We want to attack," Hopkins coach Ken Novak Jr. said. "We're an attacking team."
Apple Valley (29-2) responded like a defending champion does, chipping away at the Hopkins lead and getting it down to one point, 34-33, by halftime.
"It wasn't really a shock that they punched us in the mouth, but we fought back," said Trent, who finished with 23 points but made only nine of his 28 shots.
Hopkins started the second half the way it started the game, going on a 14-4 run to bump the lead back to 11 at 48-37. And that ended what was left of Apple Valley's fight. Shahid scored seven points in that burst and finished with 16 points, as did Amir Coffey, the Metro Player of the Year.
"We were just a step slow in everything we did tonight," Goring said. "Sometimes you have games like that."