Boys basketball: Hopkins, DeLaSalle, Braham, Mpls. North add to state title collections
By Bruce Strand
DeLaSalle stayed on top, and Hopkins, Braham and Minneapolis North returned to the top, as all four added to their lofty collections of state boys basketball championships March 12.
DeLaSalle became the first school to capture five consecutive championships, beating Fergus Falls 79-65 in the Class 3A title game for their 10th crown overall, also a record, with another likely next year.
Hopkins beat its recent nemesis Lakeville North 64-55 for its ninth title and seventh since 2002 but first since 2011 in Class 4A.
Braham, back in the finals for the first time since their 2004-05-06 dynasty, outgunned Jackson County Central 96-90 in Class 2A for its fourth title.
Minneapolis North, a five-time state champion in the big-school division, now relegated to Class 1A after its enrollment shrunk so sharply that the school almost closed, picked up its sixth crown 68-45 o ver Goodhue.
It was the first finals appearance for Fergus Falls, Jackson and Goodhue, while Lakeville North has reached three of the last five title games, winning once.
Hopkins snags 9th state crown, and Coffee’s first
Hopkins 6-8 guard Amir Coffee, the Minnesota Gophers recruit and Mr. Basketball award recipient, was elated to capture his first state crown in his fourth varsity season.
“My sisters were giving me a hard time about it,” said Coffey, whose two sisters had three state titles. “They told me, you better not leave with zero.”
Coffee led with 19 points as the Royals (31-1) emerged with a 64-55 title game win over Lakeville North — the team that rallied to upset them in the 2014 finals, and beat them again in the first round last year when Coffey missed the season with a knee injury.
‘”Two years ago, we should have won it,” said coach Ken Novak. “That was probably the most disappointing loss I’ve ever had.”
Along with Coffey’s 19, Vinnie Shahid had 13 points and Xavier Johnson 10 for the Royals, whose big edge was points off steals. Ishmael El-Amin, whose dad Khalid won three titles with Minneapolis North, added nine points and Simon Wright eight.
Thirteen fast-break points, 11 of them off steals, helped Hopkins take control in the second half. Johnson made four of Hopkins eight steals. The Royals had a 23-9 edge in points off turnovers.
Nathan Reuvers tallied 16 points and Nick Fossey 11 for Lakeville North (26-6). The 6-foot-10 Reuvers was offered a scholarship by the Gophers after the semifinals, the Star-Tribune reported.
Lakeville North stopped top-seeded, previously-unbeaten Osseo 60-56 in the semifinals, led by Reuvers with 17 points and Fossey with 12, including their last 10 points, the final two on free shots after a crucial steal. Also in the semifinals, Hopkins thrashed defending champion, No. 1 ranked Apple Valley 84-60 with Johnson scoring 24 points and Coffey and Shahid 16 each. Apple Valley beat Osseo 93-82 for third.
Two sophs, two juniors help DeLaSalle extend dynasty
DeLaSalle, the Minneapolis private school that attracts a steady supply of college-bound players from around the metro area each year, had two sophomores and two juniors starting, and just one holdover from last year’s lineup, but cruised to another title, capped by a 79-65 win over Fergus Falls.
“Everyone talked about how we lost a lot of starters, so we had kind of a chip on our shoulders because we knew we were ready to play, too,” said Samm Jones, senior point guard. “We had kind of a bumpy start (to the season) but we kept our composure and kept working hard, and it’s very satisfying to win another championship at the end of the year.”
Under coach Dave Thorson they showed their usual highly-polished fundamentals, discipline and suffocating defense as they posted a 24-4 season after a 2-3 start. After winning a section that had five of the top-ten-ranked teams, they dispatched unranked Fridley 65-52 and No. 20 Monticello 59-45 to reach finals while No. 9 Fergus knocked off No. 2 Red Wing 58-55.
The five consecutive titles is a Minnesota first. The Islanders had been tied at four straight with Southwest Minnesota Christian and Minneapolis Patrick Henry.
DLS sophomore Gabe Kalscheur poured in 27 points. Jones hit 14 points, junior Goanar Mar 13 with seven rebounds, and sophomore Sage Booker 11 points. Mar, a 6-7 guard, is the lone starter back.
“It’s all about the culture we have at DeLaSalle, the way we do things. Not just in basketball,” said Thorson, who notched his 500th win in the finals.
For Fergus Falls (28-4), which also expects to be back next year, sophomore Harrison Christensen hit 22 points, sophomore Nathan Rund 13 points, senior Jake Western 12 and and junior Matthew Monke 12.
Fergus Falls changed head coaches just after Christmas due to unfortunate circumstances and wound up in the state championship game. Dave Rund, Fergus Falls veteran head coach and Nathan’s dad, resigned on Jan. 21 following a Dec. 26 arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. Matt Johnson, his assistant, took over.
Braham returns hoops glory to town
The Braham juniors and seniors, whom their coach recalls getting autographs and high fives from the state champ teams a decade ago as grade-schoolers, now have a state trophy themselves.
The Bombers (31-2) raced to a 50-29 halftime lead and withstood JCC’s 61-point second half to win the Class 2A final 96-60. Chris Olson, a strong, nimble senior guard, led with 33 points, including 4-for-6 on three-pointers, and nine rebounds. Sophomore guard Ryan Larson delivered 28 points on blistering 11-for-13 shooting. Senior guards John Larson and Alec Olson added 16 and 15, respectively.
Braham shot 10-for-18 on three’s and JCC was 11-for-28.
About his team’s eagerness to shoot three’s, Ecklund quipped, “There’s times I’m looking down at the floor and saying no, no, no, and then I look up and it’s yes, yes, yes.”
Bodey Behrends, Jackson’s 6-foot-9 center signed by Augustana, was a terror defensively in the lane with nine blocked shots, while scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Colton Timmer and Matt Ringkob scored 21 points each and Jacob Christopher 16 for the Huskies (25-6).
No, 3 ranked Braham reached the finals by defeating Maple River 67-58 and top-ranked St. Croix Lutheran 86-77 with Olson scoring 24 points and Ryan Larson 22. They had lost to SCL 86-75 in December.
No. 13 ranked Jackson County Central (25-6), making just its second state trip, upset No. 2 ranked Caledonia 79-75 to reach the finals.
McKenzie guides North to 1A laurels
Minneapolis North, in its third season under new coach Larry McKenzie, who won four 3A titles with rival Patrick Henry, was ranked first all year, averaging 98 points. To no one’s surprise the Polars finished on top, with a 25-6 record, mostly against bigger schools, including a 96-94 loss to Hopkins.
At state, the Polars beat St. Clair 80-27 and Red Lake 82-61 before dominating the second half against Goodhue, which led 26-25 at halftime.
The Polars showed their usual balance in the title game with Isaac Johnson scoring 18 points, Pat Dembley 14, Tyler Johnson 11, Odell Wilson IV 10 and Jamil Jackson Jr. eight. Isaac Johnson snagged 11 rebounds.
“That last banner they see in the gym, that was 2003,” said McKenzie, referring to the last of five big-school titles won by North, “when these kids were five years old. And that’s what it’s about now, about the five-year-olds watching them play today. We are building this brick by brick. We have been digging the foundation and today we laid our first brick.”
North also reached state finals in football, for the first time, but lost to Minneota.
“Ever since that game, we knew we were going to go out and get it in basketball,” said Tyler Johnson, the quarterback, who’ll play football for the Gophers. “That loss motivated us a lot. We’ve got a lot of the football players on this team.”
Ben Opsahl tallied 12 points and Jacob Pasch and Jacob McNamara nine each for Goodhue (22-9), a very surprising finalist which was not ranked in the top 20 but beat No. 2 ranked Spring Grove in the section finals, stopped Lake Park-Audubon’s 22-game win streak in the state opener, and tripped No. 4 ranked Central Christian in the semifinals.
McKenzie now has five state titles, along with the highest winning percentage in state tourney history for coaches with three or more trips at 15-1.