The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Jim Rueda

March 21, 2012

Rueda: Winter sports season has been highly entertaining

— The winter high school sports season officially ends this weekend with the culmination of the state boys basketball tournaments at Target Center in Minneapolis. The winter campaign began way back on Halloween Day with the start of girls hockey practice.

So what if someone asked you to recall the single greatest sports moment of the season? What was the one game or one performance or one hot streak that sticks out as the most memorable over the last four-plus months?

To be sure, there were a lot of noteworthy efforts. One that comes to mind most easily was the St. Peter vs. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown two-game boys basketball series.

The matchup featured two of the very best Class AA programs in the state. WEM’s Tate Harmon broke the school’s career scoring record by going over 1,169 points and teammate Grant Pope set the state record for career steals by going over 468.

As loaded as WEM was, however, the Joey Bartlett-led St. Peter squad knocked the Bucs off twice. Once was during the regular season and the second time came in the subsection finals.

Another memorable performance came on Dec. 1 when the Mankato East/Loyola girls hockey team knocked off Mankato West 6-2. There was nothing more at stake than local bragging rights, but the win over the Scarlets was the first for East/Loyola in seven seasons. Prior to that game West had outscored the Cougars 85-10 over the previous six years.

Still fresh in our memories is the effort of sophomore Carlie Wagner for New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva. She led the team to a third-place finish in the Class A tournaments, setting the records for most points in a single game and most points in a tournament while at state.

Back to hockey, Mankato West shut out Mankato East/Loyola 4-0 in a boys game in early December. Again, the game in and of itself carried little in the way of ramifications., but the effort of Cougars’ goaltender Lucas Weihe was remarkable. Weihe stopped 65 shots in the losing effort, keeping the score close to a respectable instead of a double-digit blowout.

For me, however, the most memorable moment came on the wrestling mat. It happened on Saturday, Feb. 18, when Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial and St. James battled for the championship of the Section 4A Tournament.

This time, everything was at stake. The winning team earned a berth to state. The losing team was done with its dual-meet season.

The dual unfolded amidst a large crowd of rabid fans from both St. James and Lake Crystal. The meet came down to heavyweight where St. James’ Victor Torres took on LCWM’s Matt Johnson. LCWM led 30-24 entering the final, which meant that all Johnson had to do was refrain from getting pinned and the Knights had a win.

Somehow, however, Torres put Johnson on his back twice. The first time he literally came within an inch of pinning Johnson but couldn’t quite pull it off despite the roar of fans. Instead, Torres delivered a regular decision and LCWM held on for a 30-27 victory.

One inch. That’s how close the difference was between the teams.

Had Torres gotten the pin, the meet would have been tied and the teams would have had to go down to the eighth tie-breaking criteria — most first-period points — to figure out the winner. If that had happened, St. James would have advanced and LCWM would have stayed home instead of going on to finish fifth in the state tournament.

To me, that’s the one event that sticks out the most.

Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or e-mail him at jrueda@mankatofreepress.com

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Jim Rueda