The Section 8AAAA semifinals were held on Saturday in Halenbeck Hall on the campus of St. Cloud State University.
In the opening matchup it was the #1 seed Maple Grove Crimson squaring off against the #4 seed St. Michael-Albertville Knights. The Knights started fast, however, three minutes into the game STMA senior forward Cody Mattson exited due to an apparent injury, which seemed to open the door back up for the Crimson. At halftime, Maple Grove had built a small five-point cushion, leading 32-27. In the second frame, the Crimson kept STMA at arm’s length, emerging victorious 71-59. Senior guard Xavier Thurman led the way for STMA with 19 points, while junior guard Nate Adams paced the Crimson with 21 points.
The second game of the day pitted two teams that pulled off an upset in the quarterfinals, the #6 seed Buffalo Bison against the #7 seed Moorhead Spuds. This was a tale of two halves, as the Bison dominated the action in the first half, jumping out to a 38-24 halftime lead. The grit and toughness that the Spuds showed in the second half was inspiring, outscoring the Bison by 12 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough, as the Bison held on for a 72-70 win. Sophomore guard Matthew Willert led all scorers with 25 for the Bison and sophomore guard Drew Hagen netted 20 for the Spuds.
The #1 seed Maple Grove will face the #6 seed Buffalo on Thursday night at 7pm in Monticello.
Here are ten takeaways from the action on Saturday:
- Rainey Runs the Show – I have watched the Crimson on a couple of occasions this season and have come away very impressed with junior 6’1” point guard Jared Rainey. He led the team in scoring during the regular season, but it is more than just his scoring that gets this team going. He has a smooth handle and a great feel for the pace of the game, his ability to get into the lane and create shots for others keeps this offense ticking.
- Contributions from Adams & Battist – Rainey is the guy who makes this offense tick, but if Adams can knock down shots from the perimeter and Battist can get some buckets in the paint, you have to like their chances to prevail on Thursday. The 6’2” guard Nate Adams is one of the purest shooters I’ve watched this year and can heat up in a hurry. Buffalo’s weak spot might be in the paint, as they only have one player over 6’4” on their roster. If Maple Grove can run some offense through their 6’6” senior big Alex Battist, and he can produce, it could be the difference in that game.
- Grove Glue Guys – The three players mentioned above carry the majority of the scoring load for the Crimson, however, a trio of senior role-players do the dirty work for Maple Grove. Zach Bradbury, Mac Wilner, and Jordan Stensland all provide valuable minutes playing good team defense, cleaning the glass, and making the hustle plays that seniors in the playoffs should.
- In the Paint for the Knights – One of the more intriguing players that I watched on Saturday was the 6’7” junior big from STMA, Austin Jentzen. This guy is a pretty raw talent, but you can’t argue with his athleticism and strong build. His footwork and touch around the rim need some work, however, if he puts in the work this summer, he could emerge as one of the better players in this section next season.
- Spots to Fill for STMA – The Knights are graduating two-thirds of their offensive production from their game on Saturday, which will provide opportunity for the younger players on their roster. They will lose Marcus Greenwaldt, Marcus Krupke, Cody Mattson, and Xavier Thurman, four guys who did a lot of things on the floor for this team.
- Buffalo Built to Last – Out of the 72 points that the Bison scored on Saturday, all but 8 of those points came from sophomores. Brandon Maatz, Matthew Willert, Tony Dahl, and Aidan Bouman combined for 64 points against Moorhead. They may be young and a #6 seed, but don’t count these guys out on Thursday.
- Wonderful Willert – There were some tremendous scoring performances on Saturday, and the 25 points put up by the sophomore Matthew Willert didn’t go unnoticed. The wiry 6’3” guard displayed great versatility in his scoring arsenal. Despite his slight frame, he has a great knack for getting into the lane and finishing in traffic. His shooting stroke is sound, and he shows great maturity in the way he works without the ball, curling off screens if the defender follows and fading if the defender stays underneath. Willert has the potential to put up big numbers.
- Bison Beyond the Arc – As a team, Buffalo was 11 for 29 from deep, but two players in particular hit a number of big shots from three. Tony Dahl and Brandon Maatz each went 4 for 9 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of timely triples to keep the Spuds at bay. Their success from deep will be key on Thursday against Maple Grove.
- Spuds Returning – The Spuds weren’t expected to be playing Saturday, but a victory over the #2 seed St. Cloud Tech has laid the ground work for a bright future for the Spuds. They return a number of key players; sophomore PG Cayden Rickard, junior forward Maleeck Harden, sophomore wing Drew Hagen, and junior center Logan Garcia. The Spuds will be a team to watch in Class AAAA next season.
- Another Soph Standout – We touched on the sophomore talent for Buffalo, but their opponent in this game featured a great one as well. The 6’4” wing for Moorhead Drew Hagen has a bright future ahead of him. He is a versatile scorer with the athleticism to be a great asset on the defensive end. Keep an eye on Hagen next season.