Jacob Christopher and Jackson County Central pulled off a major upset Wednesday, and that wasn't the only reason for celebration.
The unseeded Huskies got their first state tournament victory in school history when they defeated second-seeded Caledonia 79-74 at Williams Arena.
"It's never been done before," Christopher said. "It feels great that we can be groundbreaking like this."
In a game where every basket and steal and whistle felt as if it could determine the outcome, the Huskies (24-5) pulled away with a simple formula: play defense and rebound.
Christopher led in scoring with 27 points. Bodey Behrends dominated inside with 20 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks.
Behrends' presence forced the Warriors to shoot from the outside. Despite 25 points from Owen King, Caledonia finished shooting only 22 percent from three-point range on 41 attempts.
Caledonia (28-3) stayed close throughout the game thanks in large part to 25 turnovers by Jackson County Central. The Warriors made a late run, but the Huskies hit their free throws down the stretch to hold on for the upset.
"They've done it all year long," Huskies coach Trent Sukalski said. "To be honest with you, I'm shocked when they miss [free throw]."
Annandale 52, Esko 40: The unseeded Cardinals spent much of the game passing and passing around the perimeter, waiting for an open look or a lapse in the Eskomos' zone.
Annandale's performance was not fast or high-scoring, nor was it flashy. But you know what they say about slow and steady.
Their patience paid off against third-seeded Esko behind 19 points from Jarod Wilken and 12 from Brad Weege.
"In practice, I'm hard on them about discipline," Cardinals coach Skip Dolan said. "I'm hard on them about keeping their composure, staying strong with the basketball. And we thrive on getting high-percentage shots."
The game was tied at 19 at halftime and remained close for much of the second half, but after Annandale (26-5) scored a few unanswered baskets, Esko was forced out of its zone and moved to a smaller lineup. The problem for the Eskomos (27-4) was they were never able to find a scoring rhythm. Isaak Blue led Esko with 14 points, but Esko shot only 35 percent from the field and was 2-for-20 on threes compared to Annandale's 49-percent mark overall.
Braham 67, Maple River 58: Their lead trimmed to five points in the second half, Braham's players never panicked.
The confident Bombers thwarted the Eagles by winning little battles more often. They bunched up clutch shots and defensive stops better than the Maple River to win.
"For sure there was a sense of urgency, but at no point did I think we were about to lose," said Braham senior forward John Larson, who finished with 19 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. "Every time they got close, we'd come down and get a layup to even the momentum up."
Braham senior guard Chris Olson led all scorers with 23 points. Teammate Ryan Larson made key plays and scored seven points as the Bombers (29-2) closed the first half on a 13-4 run.
Such a run proved too much for Maple River (27-4) to counter.
"We really thought once we closed the gap that we could keep it going and get up on them," Eagles' senior guard Brandon Sohre said. "But we would turn the ball over and get frustrated and allow easy buckets on defense."
DAVID LA VAQUE
St. Croix Lutheran 86, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 52: Senior guard Aage Rovney enjoyed the night's best line, going a perfect 7-for-7 on three-pointers to pace the top-seeded Crusaders.
Honorable mention goes to teammate Tanner Berwald, who joked to Rovney at halftime, "You should really stop shooting at this point. You don't want to ruin your percentage, do you?"
Rovney was 6-for-6 at halftime. He connected from deep once more in the second half. The state record of 10 is held by three players.
With Rovney on fire from deep and Ade Murkey (21 points) and Trenton Krueger (19) converting inside, St. Croix Lutheran (28-2) cruised.
Rovney, who led the West St. Paul private school program with 67 three-pointers made this season, said his previous best shooting games were "nothing of this magnitude."
Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (25-6) knew who to stop but struggled to execute.
"No. 3 for them was shooting the three well and No. 5 [Murkey] kept taking it to the hole," Rebels senior forward Blake Kragnes said. "We tried our best to control them, but it didn't work."
DAVID LA VAQUE