Posted On: 03/5/18 11:08 AM
The Section 5A playoffs are scheduled to start tonight (although a number of the schools are closed today) for this 21-team section. Geographically, this is a section that covers a large area, from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa to Cromwell and McGregor, which means that there is often still some unfamiliarity with all of these teams come playoff time that can make for interesting matchups.
Coming into this season, and even up until a couple of weeks ago, it looked like this would be a one or two team race. However, with the results that have come out of section games recently, this could shape up to be more wide-open then I initially thought.
We’ll take a look at the contenders, teams that are in the hunt, and a dark horse in this section, as well as try and predict the winner in this Section 5A preview.
Contenders: Cromwell-Wright, Nevis, Hinckley-Finlayson
Cromwell finished 20-6 with a 4-0 record in the section, including a signature win at Nevis. They were a tough team to get a read on this season, their conference schedule didn’t provide much of a measuring stick, and up until their win at Nevis it was tough to tell if this team was for real. Junior Marcus Pocernich and sophomore Micah Pocernich lead the way for Cromwell.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ll know that most of the season (up until a couple weeks ago) I believed that Nevis was the team to beat in this section and would make a return trip to the State Tournament. Nevis has looked vulnerable in the last month, and it has been against section opponents. They’ve lost five times this season, twice to Cass Lake-Bena and once to North Woods, two teams that I expect to be in Minneapolis in a couple weeks. The troubling losses for Nevis have been to Walker-Hackensack-Akeley and Cromwell-Wright, both at home and both within the last month of the season. They find themselves in the same half of their section bracket with WHA and CW and would need to get through them to reach the championship game. It’ll be a tough task for junior Michael Landquist and the Tigers.
Hinckley-Finlayson wrapped up the regular season with a 22-4 overall record and a perfect 10-0 mark in the section. They have proven that they have what it takes to beat most of the teams in this section, and their losses this season all have come against quality opponents from bigger schools (Esko, Virginia, Pine City, Superior). Senior Travis Visser can score the basketball inside and out and will be a tough matchup for any team.
In the Hunt: Walker-Hackensack-Akeley
WHA has been up and down this year, winning six in a row at one point in the season, however, they lost their last two regular season contests to finish up 16-10 and 6-5 in the section. The reason they are in the hunt is their ability to play with the favorites, and beat them, as they came out victorious at Nevis a month ago. They have athletes, led by Nathaniel Armstrong, that can keep them in a game with anyone.
Dark Horse: Braham
They finished with a very pedestrian 12-14 record this season, however, they were 8-2 against section opponents. If they get by East Central in their first-round game they would likely square-off against Hinckley-Finlayson next. HF gave Braham their two section losses this season, it’d be a tall task for Braham to take them down, but it’s always tough to beat a team three times in a season. Seniors Hunter Giffrow and Levi Wylie are the players to watch for Braham.
This section features a few teams that have separated themselves, however, the middle to bottom of this section is wide open. I could have included any number of teams as a dark horse, Sebeka took Nevis to OT this season and has a pair of seniors in James Clark and Jack Lillquist that will pose matchup problems for most teams. Browerville opened up the season 1-4 but finished 13-7 and feature a dynamic tandem of juniors in Zak Irsfeld and John Schueller. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa finished with a 10-16 record, but don’t be fooled, they played a tough schedule with many AA teams and were very competitive in most losses.
They’ve been victorious against a number of section opponents, they are battled tested from a tough non-conference schedule, and they have a go-to scoring option that can help carry them through this bracket.
I’ve changed my tune in the last couple of weeks in regards to the favorite in this section, however, that isn’t to say that Nevis isn’t capable of winning, or Cromwell for that matter. This will be an interesting bracket to keep an eye on, circle March 16th for the championship game, it should be a great matchup.
***Photo Credit: Pine Journal***