Prep boys basketball: Hermantown survives charge by Denfeld to win back-to-back Section 7AAA titles
The Hawks advanced to consecutive state tournaments for the first time in school history.
DULUTH — Early in the second half Thursday, Hermantown looked to be cruising to the Section 7AAA title over Duluth Denfeld at Duluth East High School.
Up 16 at halftime, the Hawks hit a pair of 3-pointers, after a Hunter bucket by K.J. Pulliam, to put them up 20.
Instead of packing it in, the Hunters mounted a furious rally fueled by Marnaries Ferguson’s play on the perimeter and Pulliam — a 6 foot, 6 inch junior — dominating the paint.
Denfeld cut the lead to four, but Broc Sundland hit a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to six and Hermantown went on to take a 70-59 win and a second-straight trip to the Class AAA tournament next week.
“We started shying away from what we were doing and the momentum was in their favor,” junior Abe Soumis said. “Denfeld always has a nice crowd, they were getting loud and we just kind of feel away from what we’re good at.”
Soumis led the Hawks with 18 points and hit a pair of free throws in the final minute to cement the win.
Denfeld coach Phil Homere called a timeout to try to settle his team down and get them refocused.
“When we were down so many points, our guys almost seemed like they wanted to quite,” Homere said. “It wasn’t until after we called the timeout and explained to them that we deserve to be in this game, we have to keep fighting. Once we bought into that, the defensive energy picked up and that led to easier shots for us. The fact that we stayed focused and actually started going with the game plan, things started changing around a little bit.”
Ferguson scored 12 of his game-high 22 points during the run and Pulliam had six of his 12 points.
During the Denfeld charge, the Hawks got a pair of putback buckets from Soumis and Blake Schmitz, which made a big difference as the lead continued to shrink.
“The coaches always tell us to crash the offensive boards,” Soumis said. “Just getting the extra rebounds just gives us another change and another shot attempt. The more shots you can get can make the difference in the game tonight, like those tonight.”
Coach Andy Fenske said they were able to “find other ways to get it done” with those offensive rebounds and and even working the ball around for 30 or 40 seconds to get a better shot.
“Even if we miss those shots, the guys are mindful enough to make sure they aren’t rushing the next ones and things like that,” Fenske said. “They’re smart enough to be in the moment and take each possession one at a time.”
Hermantown advances to the state tournament in consecutive years for the first time in school history, and only the fourth time ever.
“Hermantown basketball had never gotten to the section finals until 10 years ago,” Fenske said. “Now we’ve been here seven of the last 10 years, winning four. We’re trending in a great direction and each group of seniors leave this place a little bit better than it was when they got here.”
Denfeld (16-13), too, is trending in the right direction, advancing to the section final for the first time since 2012 and improving its win total by 13 from 2021-22. They will also lose just one senior off this season’s squad.
“These guys understand that that we’re losing one guy, so everybody is coming back,” Homere said. “In the preseason ranking, they had us ranked dead last and here we are in a game that we’re not even supposed to be in. There’s no reason why next year, we’re not right back in this game knowing that everybody put in the time.”
Hermantown (22-6) will play their state quarterfinal game Tuesday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Duluth Denfeld 27-32—59
Duluth Denfeld — Aiden Altona 12, Lee Brooks 3, Marnaries Ferguson 22, Finn Powell 9, K.J. Pulliam 12, Cole Abernathy 1. Totals 24 6-11 59.
3-point goals — Altona 2, Ferguson 2, Powell.
Hermantown — Blake Schmitz 18, Abe Soumis 19, Nathan Hill 13, Peyton Menzel 10, Drew Schmitz 5, Broc Sundland 5. Totals 24 15-24 70.
3-point goals — B. Schmitz 2, Soumis, Hill, Menzel, D. Schmitz, Sundland.