PREP BOYS BASKETBALL / SECTION 7A CHAMPIONSHIP / NORTH WOODS 78, LCA 39
Even at full strength, it was going to require a Herculean effort from the Lakeview Christian Academy Lions to dethrone high-powered and two-time defending Section 7A champ North Woods.
So it didn't bode well to see Brandon BarBee propped up on crutches and wearing a shirt and tie instead of a basketball jersey before tip-off Friday night at Romano Gym, where the senior and his 19.2-points-per-game scoring average were sidelined by a medial collateral ligament injury sustained in Wednesday's semifinal victory over Cook County.
Shorthanded is no way to battle the Grizzlies, who put their postseason proficiency on display in a 78-39 win that secured a third straight trip to the Class A state tournament, where North Woods (27-2) has finished runner-up each of the past two years.
This one was never in doubt.
"We wanted to establish our presence in the first five minutes, and we certainly did that," Grizzlies coach Will Kleppe said.
So much so that LCA coach Kyle Peterson burned his first timeout 79 seconds in as North Woods raced to a 6-0 lead, which promptly became 9-0 thanks to a 3-pointer from freshman T.J. Chiabotti. Another 3 from the youngster made it 43-27 late in the first half, after the Lions (21-8) twice had climbed to within 11.
With the Grizzlies up 18, senior standout Cade Goggleye rolled in a buzzer-beating 3 from behind a double team to send North Woods surging into the break.
Goggleye netted a game-high 31 points. The point guard is capable of breaking down opponents both with his scoring and his passing. He averages close to eight assists a night and is well over 2,000 career points.
Asked how he was feeling during the postgame celebration on the Romano court, Goggleye responded "sick." He didn't know what the illness was, but it obviously wasn't debilitating.
"I tuned it out," Goggleye said. "You feel better when you're out there playing. The adrenaline kind of kicks in."
Peterson said the Lions' goal was to hold Goggleye to one shot per possession. The problem Friday was that Goggleye typically didn't need more than one. Whether he was setting up from the outside or slithering to the basket, his were an efficient 31 points. Goggleye glides around the court so effortlessly that he makes it look easy.
But, make no mistake, he's working plenty hard.
"The thing I respect so much about Cade is that it's all about winning with him," Peterson said.
Lance Puffer had 17 points to pace LCA, which, Peterson admitted, struggled with BarBee's absence.
"There's so much that he brings to the court," a hoarse Peterson said.
While the Grizzlies don't feature much height, their inside players - guys like Chase Kleppe, Trevor Morrison and Ian Sherman - are strong and active. Kleppe, the coach's son, looks like he's on a pogo stick.
They wore down the Lions in the lane.
"We know that we won't be the biggest, so we just have to work the hardest," said Kleppe, who will play college football at St. Scholastica.
He totaled 10 points, while Morrison and Chiabotti had 13 apiece.
After their running-time win, the Grizzlies were presented with a plaque inscribed with "Section 7A champion and state participant." But they're looking for more than a participation trophy next week in Minneapolis.
In 2017, North Woods surprised many by reaching the title tilt, only to get routed by Minneapolis North. Last year ended in a heart-breaking 59-55 defeat to Russell-Tyler-Ruthton.
The Grizzlies don't want another second-place finish. They'll find out this morning what time and against whom they play next Thursday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
"We know what the expectations are," Coach Kleppe said. "This is the fun part now, but we're going to prepare like we've done every other game. We're going to get ready for whoever the draw is and be ready to go."
• The Grizzlies are the epitome of a family affair. Brothers Dylan, T.J. and Brendan Chiabotti all are on the team, as is their cousin, Jared. Their grandpa, Jerry Chiabotti, who had a Hall of Fame coaching career at Bigfork, is a North Woods assistant. Will Kleppe coaches his sons, Chase and Davis. And Darius Goggleye is Cade's cousin.
North Woods 48-30-78
Lakeview Christian Academy - Spicer Johnson 6, Lance Puffer 17, Jacob Easty 10, Bennett Easty 4, Conner Weber 2. Totals 16 2-2 39.
3-point goals - Puffer 3, J. Easty 2.
North Woods - Cade Goggleye 31, Trevor Morrison 13, TJ Chiabotti 13, Chase Kleppe 10, Ian Sherman 2, Darius Goggleye 4, Dylan Chiabotti 2, Alex Hartway 3. Totals 32 8-11 78.
3-point goals - Goggleye 3, TJ Chiabotti 2, Hartway.