Here's a wild guess as to how the Section 8-3A championship game will end:
Senior Dan Kornbaum rises above a mass of bodies and drains a fade-away jumper at the buzzer to send the Little Falls Flyers to their third-straight state tournament against a dejected St. Cloud Apollo team.
I know. It's a stretch. But that exact scenario is how the last two section finals have concluded between these teams. Neither the second-seeded Flyers, nor fourth-seeded Eagles, hope it comes to that this year.
Flyers head coach Kevin Jordan hopes his team's lead is big enough not to warrant any last-second heroics. Apollo coach Den Kesler just hopes the Eagles win.
In five previous trips to section finals Kesler is 0-5. Three of those losses have come via last-second shots.
Section 8-3A final
Who: Little Falls Flyers vs. St. Cloud Apollo Eagles
When: 5 p.m. Thursday
Where: St. Cloud State University
At stake: A spot in the Class 3A state tournament.
"It's been fun, it's been exciting, it's been frustrating, all in one boat," Kesler said of the section finals. "We've felt the last two years we played well enough to win, we just didn't make enough plays down the stretch."
Asked if he has a plan in mind should that last-second situation present itself a third time, Jordan said no.
"We haven't practiced those plays the last two years so I don't know why we would do it now," Jordan said with half a chuckle.
The Flyers enter Thursday's game with a 19-9 record, winners of three of their last four. They swept the season series against Apollo, beating the Eagles 53-47 on Dec. 22 and again 72-67 Feb. 9. Those wins, however, mean nothing.
"This one means a lot more," Jordan said. "The winner gets to keep playing and the loser is done. Our goal is to play 32 basketball games. We've played 30 the last two years. We're a little hungry to get past the first round of the state tournament. The only chance we have to do that is to have success on Thursday night."
Finding success against Apollo won't be easy. The Eagles (18-10) enter Halenbeck Hall as winners of seven of their last eight, including Saturday's 54-40 upset over top-seeded Rocori.
"We're feeling confident," Kesler said. "We're playing our best basketball of the year. Thursday, we'll go in and play as hard as we can, as smart as we can and see if we can make enough plays to come out with a victory."
Apollo is led by 6-foot-5 junior forward Blake Maslonkowski (19.9 points and 7.3 rebounds a game). Simon Krych, a 6-8 junior center, scored 22 points in the first game against Little Falls. He's averaging 13.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots a game. Junior point guard Ibrahim Abukar finished with 10 and 16 points in the two meetings. He's averaging 13.1 points and 4.1 assists per game.
"They have a good combination of inside and outside threats," said Jordan. "Maslonkowski is playing as well as anybody right now. He's one of the most aggressive players we've seen.
"They also have good perimeter players in Abukar and (Derek) Steve plus Brett Maslonkowski. They're all capable of hitting 3-pointers."
Jordan said the Flyers will stress post defense, while at the same time contesting perimeter shots. While doing both they need to concentrate on getting into rebounding position.
In the regular season, the Flyers outrebounded opponents 31.4 to 22.8, outshot teams 47 percent to 42 percent and outscored opponents 64.0 to 55.8.
The Flyers are led by Kornbaum, a three-year starting center (23.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game). Senior point guard Alex Scott is putting up 11.4 points and 3.1 rebounds with 171 total assists. Ethan Mustonen, another three-year starter, is adding 8.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.
"We're excited about the opportunity," Kesler said. "We know we have a great challenge ahead of us. Coach Jordan does a great job and Dan Kornbaum is as good a player as there is in our league."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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