MINNEAPOLIS - The tears had dried up but the pain was still real for North Woods senior Brendan Parson after the Grizzlies lost the Class A high school boys basketball state title game Saturday in heartbreaking fashion.
Parson didn’t mince words.
“It hurts,” Parson said. “We wanted to come in and win. That was our goal, to win the state championship, but things didn’t go our way. We didn’t capitalize when we needed to.”
That’s because Russell-Tyler-Ruthton had other ideas in rallying from an 11-point deficit with less than 8 minutes remaining to win 59-55 at Target Center.
It was a game of runs and physical play, with both teams comprised of players from their state-qualifying Nine-Man football teams, but the Knights had the run that ultimately mattered. Senior forward Westkin Kirk led the way with 18 points, while Carter Hansen had 13 and Garrett Kern 12.
“Feels like a dream,” Hansen said.
At one point for Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (33-1), it looked more like a nightmare. The Knights led by as many as 13 points in the first half before North Woods awoke from its slumber to go on a 21-5 run to take a 33-30 lead into halftime.
The Grizzlies (31-2) extended the lead to 49-38 in the second half when Russell-Tyler-Ruthton coach Ted Kern, Garrett’s father, called a timeout with 8:36 remaining.
“At that point, I anticipated that we were going to have to extend our defense a little further than we normally do,” Ted Kern said. “So the timeout was about trying to get them a 30-second break, a little water and just a little bit of individual, ‘Let’s keep the chins up, this isn’t done, keep battling, we’ve been here.’ So it was a break, a pep talk and then back in.”
Worked like a charm.
Hansen’s twin brother, Cooper, started the rally with a layup with 7:19 remaining, cutting the lead to nine, then Kern buried a couple 3-pointers from NBA range. Kirk took over inside and the Knights were suddenly leading 56-52 with 91 seconds remaining.
North Woods senior forward Tate Olson cut the gap to two with just over a minute to play, and the Grizzlies quickly attacked after a missed free throw.
The key play came next, when Grizzlies junior Chase Kleppe was fouled near the basket, with the ball just rimming out with 25.9 seconds remaining. Instead of a potential three-point play that would have given North Woods the lead, Kleppe made the first free throw but missed the second.
“We used a lot of energy to get back into the game and get that lead, but I felt we had good energy right to the end,” said North Woods coach Will Kleppe, Chase’s father. “I had full confidence in our guys to keep battling and keep defending, and they did just that. The fact a couple shots didn’t fall, and a couple things didn’t go our way, that’s just part of the game.”
Still trailing by a point, the Grizzlies were forced to foul, and Carter Hansen sank two free throws with 10.7 left, giving the Knights a 58-55 lead.
Parson rushed the ball up court before tossing it to point guard Cade Goggleye, the long-distance hero of last year’s state tournament for the Grizzlies. Goggleye had no chance this time as he couldn’t keep his balance trying to retrieve the errant pass. He spun and threw the ball wildly up at the basket before falling out of bounds. Carter Hansen then added another free throw at the other end for the final margin.
“It’s tough when you don’t get any wide open shots and they’re all contested,” Olson said. “When you have to take tough shots, your percentages are going to go down, and that’s what happened in the second half.”
Olson led the Grizzlies with 15 points, while Goggleye had 13 and Parson 10. North Woods shot 40.7 percent for the game, including 36 percent in the second half. They made just 4 of 21 3-pointers compared to 5 of 13 for the Knights. Kern made four of those, getting hot at just the right time as they captured their first state title since winning the second of back-to-back Class A crowns in 2005.
Saturday was Section 3A’s first state title since 2013, but the section has won 10 Class A state titles since 1999 and finished third or better in 18 of the last 20 years.
Section 7, not so much.
North Woods, which finished as state runner-up in 2017, appeared primed at becoming the first team from Northeastern Minnesota to win a boys basketball state title since Esko in 2014. Chisholm, in 1991, won the last Class A title from the region.
But these state titles are rare for a reason.
“To get to where this team got, a lot of things have to go your way,” Will Kleppe said. “We said it last year, and we’re saying it again. Things have to go your way, and we just had a few breakdowns where they didn’t go our way, and that can be expected of basketball at this level, but I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
- North Woods’ Goggleye, Olson and Trevor Morrison were named to the Class A all-tournament team.
- Esko’s Quinn Fischer was named to the Class AA all-tournament team and joins teammate Adam Trapp on the Academic All-State team. Esko’s Shane Deadrick was named Class AA assistant coach of the year.
North Woods 33-22-55
Russell-Tyler-Ruthton - Jonah Johnson 7, Carter Hansen 13, Garrett Kern 12, Cooper Hansen 6, Westin Kirk 18, Brett Kelley 3. Totals 23 8-17 59.
3-point goals - Kern 4, Kelley.
North Woods - Cade Goggleye 13, Brendan Parson 10, Tate Olson 15, Chase Kleppe 7, Trevor Morrison 6, Tanner Lokken 4. Totals 22 7-10 55.
3-point goals - Parson, Olson 3.