OSSEO, Minn. — Duluth East and Wayzata were scheduled to play in a boys basketball regular-season finale March 13.
One day beforehand, however, the Trojans called off the game, ostensibly due to COVID-19 concerns. The Greyhounds were not happy about the late notice during a season in which they weren’t able to play many Twin Cities-area teams due to the pandemic.
The teams finally got their chance to play Wednesday in a Class AAAA state tournament quarterfinal at Osseo High School.
After struggling with a fired-up East team in the first half, second-ranked Wayzata took over in the second half to win 78-69 and advance to next week’s semifinal round.
“This is such a wacky year. I did not like not playing that game, that was on us,” Wayzata coach Bryan Schnettler said of the cancellation. “Luckily, we got to play on a bigger stage and it was really fun for both teams.”
It turned out to be more fun for Wayzata (17-2), which used an 18-2 run at the start of the second half to eliminate the Greyhounds (16-4).
“We knew they would create a storm and come back,” said East senior center Noah Paulson, who scored a team-high 15 points. “We thought we could weather it, but they’re a great team. We were happy with the way we played in the first half; we were a little loose in the second half.”
With the 6-foot-8 Paulson excelling inside against 6-9 Carter Bjerke, East used its own 16-2 run in the first half to take a 30-21 lead. That advantage stretched to 11 at 40-29 after Paulson stormed the lane like a Mack truck and Michael Kastelic and Mattie Thompson hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
Paulson’s bank shot at the buzzer made it 42-36 at the break.
“We had things cooking in the first half but it’s a game of runs,” East coach Rhett McDonald said.
Bjerke, the Division I prospect who has as sweet of a long-range jump shot that you will find in a 6-9 post player, opened the second half with one of his three 3-pointers, and the Trojans scored the first 11 points of the half and never trailed again.
“They surprised our guys early on,” Schnettler said. “Our guys came out with a lot of passion and fire to start the second half.”
While Bjerke and Camden Heide grab most of the attention, senior guard Eddie Beeninga turned in one of his best outings. Beeninga finished with a game-high 26 points.
“He’s our third-leading scorer and had a great year,” Schnettler said. “He has a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. In the last two games he’s really scored for us as teams have taken other guys away. It’s not a secret to anyone that Eddie can play.”
By the time the Greyhounds caught their breath they were down double digits.
“We ran out of gas,” McDonald said. “We played a short number of kids. At some point, fatigue absolutely sets in. You could see that, not just in making shots, but mental errors and you saw that a lot more in the second half than the first half.
“I don’t think we could have shot the ball better than we did in the first half. We knew that we’d have to shore up the defensive end, and we didn’t. The fatigue impacted our defensive efficiency.
“There was no doubt that we could compete with these guys. Honestly, we just ran out of gas.”
Kastelic and Zaa Buffalo each scored 13 points while Thompson contributed 11.
The Greyhounds lose five key seniors from the team, including the Minnesota Duluth-bound duo of Paulson and Thompson.
“I’ve been coaching these kids in the spring since they were in fifth and sixth grade,” McDonald said. “A long time ago, we talked about how we’re not going to be content with beating local teams. We talked about wanting to knock off the Lakeville Norths, the Wayzatas, Hopkins, Minnetonka — the blue bloods.
“What these guys were able to accomplish getting to state, competing with one of the top teams in the state, is absolutely remarkable.”
As Paulson said, there will be more to recall about this season than the final score of the final game.
“We won’t remember losing this game, we’ll remember all the positive things that we’ve gone through,” he said.
Duluth East 42-27—69
Duluth East — Joe Vos 6, Giovani Saldivar 6, Zaa Buffalo 13, Noah Paulson 15, Mattie Thompson 11, Michael Kastelic 13, Drew Larkin 3, Cam Oliphant 2. Totals 27 6-9 69.
3-point goals — Saldivar 2, Buffalo, Thompson 2, Kastelic 3, Larkin.
Wayzata — Camden Heide 15, Carter Bjerke 14, Kody Williams 10, Eddie Beeninga 26, Drew Berkland 3, Ryan Harvey 9, Spencer Hall 1. Totals 27 16-23 78.
3-point goals — Bjerke 3, Williams 2, Beeninga, Harvey.