It was a game that many had been looking forward to for more than a month.
Maple River won the Bethany Lutheran tournament. Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial won the Jug.
“This means everything,” Maple River senior center Hayden Niebuhr said. “They got the Jug, but this one means more. We’re still playing.”
Maple River used a 19-7 run midway through the second half to defeat the Knights 64-53 in the Section 2AA, South Subsection boys basketball championship game Monday at Bresnan Arena. The teams split during the regular season, with Maple River (28-2) winning the Bethany Lutheran holiday tournament with a 62-52 victory on Dec. 29 and LCWM (27-2) winning the rematch 42-38 to claim the Jug at Lake Crystal on Jan. 12.
“(LCWM) only lost to one team all season,” Maple River coach Chad Ostermann said. “They’ve had an incredible season. I feel for them. They have a lot of players who have put in a lot of time in the gym. It’s too bad we’re in the same subsection. I think they’re one of the best teams in the state.”
Maple River defeated LCWM 61-39 in the subsection championship game last season, but this one was much more competitive.
The Eagles got off to a quick start, with Will Sellers and Niebuhr hitting 3-pointers to build an 11-2 lead after four minutes. The lead grew to 21-10 when Aaron Pawlitschek scored in the lane.
But Maple River point guard Mason Schirmer picked up his second foul with nine minutes remaining in the first half, and the Eagles didn’t score for four minutes, with three turnovers.
“Mason is a big part of what we do,” Niebuhr said. “He controls the ball.”
LCWM took advantage, with Zack Wells scoring from the lane and making two free throws. The Knights scored the last six points of the half, with Drew Dahl scoring twice in the lane to cut the deficit to 26-25 at the break.
The Knights took the lead on Jack Brockman’s 3-pointer to start the second half, but Niebuhr quickly answered in the post.
“Any time we can get the ball inside to Hayden, we want to do it,” Ostermann said. “He can score, and he’s a good passer. You can’t stop him one-on-one.”
The Eagles led 39-36 with 9 minutes to play when the game-deciding run began. Zach Trio and Pawlitschek hit consecutive 3-pointers to cap a 10-point burst. Niebuhr scored four points to make it 58-41 at the 3-minute mark.
Jamis Ulman and Wells hit 3-pointers as the Knights cut the margin to 60-51, but Maple River went 6 of 6 at the free-throw line to secure the victory.
Niebuhr had 22 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, and Schirmer added 16 points, four assists and three steals.
LCWM was led by Wells with 20 points and Ulman with 15 points.
“We’ll be ready (for the section championship game),” Ostermann said. “We’ll try to control what we can control and be ready for whoever we play.”
Minnesota Valley Lutheran 73, Norwood Young America 72: Cole Thompson’s 3-pointer with 1 second to play pushed the Chargers into the Section 2AA championship game.
MVL, which has won 20 straight games, trailed by two with an inbounds pass with 5 seconds to play. The ball came in to the lane to Ty Sexton, who found Thompson open on the wing to win the North Subsection championship game.
The game was close throughout, and MVL (25-3) finally took a 62-55 lead with 5 minutes to play. However, top-seeded Norwood Young America came back, tying the game at 70 with a minute to play and taking a 72-70 lead with 34 seconds remaining.
Benjamin Pearson led MVL with 28 points and 10 rebounds, and Kyler Flunker scored 17.
Braeden O’Neil led Norwood Young America with 31 points, and Noah Strickfaden scored 19.
Maple River and MVL meet in the Section 2AA championship game at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Bresnan Arena.
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.
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