Even though 32 teams qualify for state basketball tournaments in the four-class system, many schools still have never made the trip.
The Pequot Lakes Patriots qualified for their first state appearance with a heart-pounding 58-54 victory over the Crosby-Ironton Rangers in the Section 7, Class 2A boys' championship game Saturday night before an energized capacity crowd at Brainerd High School.
"Our hat's off to C-I, their players and coaching staff," Pequot coach Garry Grewe said. "It was a great game. It's too bad someone had to lose it."
It was a spine-tingler to the finish, with 11 lead changes and eight ties. When crunch time arrived it was the Patriots who prevailed by a whisker.
With 1:05 to play, a drive by C-I's Tony Zontelli, who had 11 points, tied the score for the final time, 54-54.
Pequot Lakes' Chris Clasen had an open shot under the net in the second half Saturday at Brainerd High School.
The Patriots were then waiting for one shot when Mike Wiebolt threaded a pass to Jesse Nelson, who made the layup, was fouled, and sank the free throw with 18.2 seconds left.
"I just broke open and Mike caught me down low," said Nelson, who scored a team-high 18 points. "He hit me, and I put it in."
Grewe was planning to play for one shot.
"I was going to call a timeout with about 18 seconds left to set up the last shot," Grewe said. "We were going to go into overtime, worst-case scenario. But they doubled us, we found the open man with a great look by (Wiebolt) and it was a nice finish, with his left hand, by Nelson."
An off-balance three-point attempt by C-I's Tyler Scull, who scored a team-high 18 points, was rebounded by the Patriots with 5.5 seconds left.
Crosby-Ironton's Jon Jasman (left) drove for a layup Saturday at Brainerd High School. C-I was defeated by Pequot Lakes 58-54 in the Section 7, Class 2A championship game.
One second later, the Rangers fouled Chris Clasen, who contributed 14 points for Pequot. Clasen made the first free throw to ice the victory.
Pequot's James Baumann, who added 10 points, then stole the ball and heaved it in the air to drain the clock.
The loss was devastating for C-I, which finished 21-9 and was the top seed in the West Subsection. Rangers coach Dave Galovich said it was difficult to watch a quality group of juniors and seniors suffer a heart-breaking defeat.
"They all get along, that's what makes coaching easy," Galovich said. "A lot of times people just look at wins and losses, but it's the daily practice routine, and these guys were a pretty easy bunch to coach.
"(Grewe) is a good man, a good friend, a good guy. He does a great job with his kids. They had a great second half of the year."
Section 7, Class 2A championship
Patriots 58, Rangers 54
Back and forth: The game featured 11 lead changes and eight ties. C-I finishes its season at 21-9, while the 15-12 Patriots are headed to state.
Pequot started the season 4-2, lost 10 of its next 12, before winning its last nine. It carries a 15-12 mark into the state tournament 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Target Center against top-ranked Martin County West.
"People like their basketball here," said Grewe, in his second season at Pequot and his 19th as a head coach. "They care about it. And, the kids are willing to pay the price in June and July. If we wouldn't have done what we did in June and July we would never be here now."
Pequot got there by outscoring the Rangers 14-6 in the third. The Patriots capitalized on the absence of 6-foot-2 C-I leaper Parker Robinson, who went to the bench with four fouls with 5:05 left in the third.
After trailing 13-3 in the first quarter the Rangers methodically began to come back in the second. C-I tied it at 21 on a Zontelli three-pointer and went on to a 30-28 halftime edge.
Pequot Lakes 15 13 14 16 -- 58
Crosby-Ironton 11 19 6 18 -- 54
Chris Clasen 14, Jesse Nelson 18, Tim Koch 6, James Baumann 10, Mike Wiebolt 7, Christopher Liedl 1, Josh Dale 2. Team totals: FG 23-48 (48 percent), FT 9-13 (69 percent), 3-point baskets: 3-12 (Nelson 3). Overall -- 15-12. Next game: vs. Martin County West in 2A state quarterfinals 6 p.m. Wednesday at Target Center.
Jon Jasman 8, Tyler Scull 18, Tony Zontelli 11, Matt Brady 6, Parker Robinson 9, Brett Dickie 2. Team totals: FG 18-44 (41 percent), FT 10-15 (67 percent), 3-point baskets: 7-22 (Jasman 2, Zontelli 3, Scull, Robinson). Final record -- 21-9.
Rebounds -- C-I 21 (Parker 10), PL 24. Turnovers -- C-I 14, PL 13. Assists -- C-I 11 (Scull 4).
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