Hermantown one win from first state tourney
Early in Tuesday's Section 7AAA boys basketball semifinal between Hermantown and Cloquet, there was a semblance of chaos befitting two opponents who know each other intimately well.
Early in Tuesday’s Section 7AAA boys basketball semifinal between Hermantown and Cloquet, there was a semblance of chaos befitting two opponents who know each other intimately well.
Which makes sense considering these clubs were meeting for the third time in three months and the ninth time in three years, including twice in the postseason - a pair of defeats the Hawks would rather forget. Selective memory says they won’t soon have a hard time recalling Tuesday’s decisive performance at Duluth Denfeld High School.
Led by the one-two punch of Kole Zuidmulder and Thomas Madison, Hermantown bulldozed its way past the Lumberjacks 81-47 and to within a single victory of the program’s first state tournament. The second-seeded Hawks (23-5) meet No. 1 Chisago Lakes Area, a 60-33 winner over Grand Rapids in the opening semifinal, in Friday’s championship game.
They are 36 minutes away from going where no Hermantown boys squad has gone.
“We were so close last year and just to know I have one more chance to live my childhood dream,” said three-sport standout Zuidmulder, whose presence was felt in every facet of the game. “I love football and baseball, but the basketball state tournament is the one I’ve always dreamed about playing in.”
Zuidmulder, one of four Hermantown players in double figures, scored 21 points. But it’s impossible to quantify his impact by points alone. He repeatedly picked apart the Cloquet defense with passes through traffic from the arc. He gobbled up rebounds on both ends and altered shots - when he wasn’t blocking them. For a 6-foot-6 big guy, his game oozes with versatility.
“Kole’s the reason we lost by (34) points,” Lumberjacks coach Steve Battaglia said. “Hermantown has a good team all around, but he’s a game changer.”
This one started slow, and a bit disheveled, before Hermantown found its groove. After missing their first five 3-point attempts, the Hawks made two in a row, from Christian Comstock and Nate Soumis, to grab a 14-6 lead. They never relinquished it.
Madison totaled 13 of his 15 points in the second half, a crucial showing from the recently christened 1,000-point scorer as the Hawks were forced to sweat out a Cloquet spurt. The Lumberjacks, with so little size on their roster, have lived and died from the arc. They were resuscitated after halftime thanks to a 9-0 run that turned a 36-15 deficit into a 36-24 game.
Nate Weets and Zach Gerlach connected from the 3-point line and Gerlach produced a three-point play to rile up the Cloquet Crazies, who shed their purple first-half attire for white in the second. It looked like it just might work as the Lumberjacks closed to within 38-27, but Madison and the Hawks clamped down.
Weets finished with 21 points and showed off NBA range with his four second-half 3-pointers.
“He’s put us on his back a couple times this year,” Battaglia said.
Hermantown was expecting a push from its Lake Superior Conference rival and the defending section champ.
“They’re a great 3-point shooting team,” Hawks coach Joe Schmitz said. “Within this past month, they’ve probably broke some records with the amount of 3s they’ve made. We knew they’d come out shooting. We have a lot of respect for Cloquet.”
Nine players scored for Hermantown, which lost to Chisago Lakes 61-50 in February.
Cloquet - Nate Weets 21, Zach Gerlach 13, Mason Brenner 6, Brady Obeidzinski 4, Jeremy Bushey 3. Totals 15 9-15 47.
3-point goals - Weets 4, Brenner 2, Gerlach, Bushey.
Hermantown - Kole Zuidmulder 21, Thomas Madison 15, Nate Soumis 10, Zach Zierden 10, Caleb Steinert 5, Christian Comstock 6, Zack Brendon 8, Daniel Hedstrom 3, Nick Bostrom 3. Totals 32 12-23 81.
3-point goals - Madison, Steinert, Comstock, Soumis 2.
CHISAGO LAKES AREA 60, GRAND RAPIDS 33
A slow-it-down first half allowed the Thunderhawks to hang around, but the section’s top seed pulled away over the final 18 minutes.
Despite mustering 11 points in the opening half, No. 5 Grand Rapids (12-16) trailed by just eight at the break. But Jacob Lindquist scored 10 of his game-high 16 points in the second to help Chisago Lakes (20-8) thwart the upset bid.
The Wildcats rang up a big advantage at the free-throw line, shooting 21-for-25 compared to the Thunderhawks’ 6-for-9.
Cole Herring’s 14 points paced Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids 11-22-33
Chisago Lakes 19-41-60
Grand Rapids - Hunter Dubbels 4, Jake Skelly 9, Trevor Elhard 2, Cole Herring 14, Kail Lindgren 2, Nate Seelye 2. Totals 13 6-9 33.
3-point goal - Skelly.
Chisago Lakes Area - Ethan Hickcox 11, Jacob Lindquist 16, Trevin Nelson 2, Dylan Wood 10, William Gillach 8, Quinton Lee 2, Michael Dunne 5, Carter Duncan 6. Totals 18 21-25 60.
3-point goals - Lindquist 2, Dunne.