GRAND RAPIDS - When all else fails play defense.
That's what the West Subsection's second-seeded Pequot Lakes Patriots used Tuesday to advance to the Section 7-2A final for the second straight year.
Thanks to a 15-0 run at the end of the first half the Patriots were able to eliminate the East Subsection's top-seeded Mesabi East Giants 65-48 at Grand Rapids High School.
In the final the Patriots (26-2) will face Mid-State Conference rival Crosby-Ironton for the third time this season. The two powerhouses split during the regular season.
Pequot's other loss this season came against the Staples-Motley Cardinals. But since that loss, Pequot has won 11-straight. In its first two playoff games, Pequot outscored Aitkin and International Falls 95.5-58.5 to advance to the semis.
Pequot Patriot Nathan Greer drove under the basket Tuesday night in Grand Rapids. The Patriots won the game 65-48 to advance to the section final against Crosby-Ironton Friday in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
With the score tied 17-17 at the 5:08 mark, Pequot used defense to ignite its game-changing string of 15-straight points. The Patriots forced five turnovers and converted on three of them. Tucker Sheley benefited the most from the defensive pressure, scoring eight of his first-half 13 in the stretch.
"That was obviously really important," said Sheley, "We're just taught to play hard all the time and shots aren't always going to fall. Our defense really helped us out to end that first half."
Pequot came out of the blocks quick to grab a 14-5 advantage, but Mesabi, winners of 26 straight, stifled Pequot's post play and limited the Patriots to 13-of-31 shooting in the first half. Then Mesabi opened up a 12-3 run, thanks to six free throws to tie the game 17-17.
Pequot forced 13 turnovers in the first half and cashed in for 17 points. The Patriots dominated the paint, getting 18 points from down low and four second-chance points.
"We made a defensive switch from what we were playing and I think we had them a little bit confused with what we were doing," said Pequot coach Garry Grewe. "I think that made a big difference because we got the steals and then the layups. That was a huge run."
Defense was the key as Pequot held the Giants to just 6-of-19 shooting in the first and 6-of-17 in the second. East's Kai LeMoine scored 11 of his 13-points in the second half and Justin Peyla scored nine of his 19, including his 1,000th career point, in the second half, but only one other Giant scored (Justin Kangas with six).
Pequot Lakes' Jesse Fisher faced rough resistance under the basket against Mesabi East during the Section 7-2A semifinal in Grand Rapids Tuesday. The Patriots won the game 65-48 to advance to the section finals Friday against Crosby-Ironton in Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"We just played man-to-man and we've been playing our man a lot better now during the playoffs," said Sheley. "Ever since our loss to Staples we've just been getting after it.
"We just kept going at Mesabi. We did some different defenses and we still pounded the ball inside and we got the shots to fall at the end."
Pequot, led by Sheley's 24 points, also saw Nathan Greer finish with 12 and Jesse Fisher, despite playing with someone else's jersey and foul trouble, managed 10.
Matt Bartella came off the bench to finish with nine points.
Pequot forced 24 total turnovers, turning those into 30 points. Pequot opened up the second half with a 10-2 run and added a 9-1 streak to close out their 12th-straight win.
Pequot Lakes 65, Mesabi East 48
Key: A 15-0 run to close out the first half ignited the Patriots to their second straight section final
Overall: PL 26-2, ME 26-2
Next: Pequot Lakes vs. Crosby-Ironton in Section 7-2A final at Brainerd High School 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"Bottom line we played very poorly tonight on offense," said Grewe. "We didn't move the basketball or ourselves. We were just parking ourselves. Then we were forced to move the ball on the perimeter and then we're easy to guard."
As far as a chance to repeat as section champs and getting a rematch against C-I, Pequot's senior captain had this to say.
"We're excited, I guess," said Sheley.
Pequot Lakes 36 29 - 65
Mesabi East 22 26 - 48
Tucker Sheley 24, Jesse Fisher 10, Nathan Greer 12, Brandon Hilts 3, Jon Parker 5, Jonathan Liedl 2, Matt Bartella 9. Team totals: FG: 23-51 (45 percent), FT: 15-25 (60 percent), 3-pointers: 2-7 (Sheley, Hilts).
Justin Peyla 19, Justin Kangas 8, Kai LeMoine 13, John St. Lawrence 2, Jake Whiting 2, Nate Holstrom 4. Team totals: FG: 12-36 (33 percent), FT 20-27 (74 percent), 3-points: 4-7 (LeMoine 3, Kangas 1).
Jeremy Millsop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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