Posted On: 03/9/18 4:51 PM
Last night I was in attendance for the 5A North Subsection Quarterfinal game between #3 seed Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (WHA) and #6 seed Pine River-Backus (PRB).
There is a lot of familiarity between these two teams as they are conference foes and split the regular season home and away. That was very evident in the first half as both teams struggled to find good looks as a result of solid defensive game plans on both sides, leading to a 16-15 WHA lead at the half.
Both teams found a rhythm in the second half as the senior leaders from each team emerged to try and propel their respective teams to victory. WHA pulled away from PRB down the stretch, as they downed the Tigers by a final score of 51-34.
WHA received a stellar performance from senior wing Nathaniel Armstrong, as he tallied 26 points, the only Wolves player to reach double-figures. For PRB, senior guard Nick Ackerman poured in 22 points for the Tigers, also the only player on his team in double-figures.
WHA moves on to play the #2 seeded Nevis Tigers on Saturday at 7:45pm in Pequot Lakes.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday night’s action.
This game featured two senior players who currently are not going anywhere to play college basketball next season. Nick Ackerman of PRB is a 6’2” guard that played the lead guard position for the Tigers most of the night. His handle is solid, he is very methodical and makes good decisions with the basketball, his shooting stroke looks good, and his on-ball defense was sound. Nothing in particular jumps out at you when you watch Ackerman, but he is fundamentally sound and gets the job done.
WHA’s Nathaniel Armstrong is similar in size to Ackerman, but their approach to the game is a little different. While Ackerman is a smooth, methodical player, Armstrong has a more explosive look to his game. His athleticism could allow him to be an elite on-ball defender, and he rebounds the ball well for a guard. He displayed the ability to knock down the open jumper last night, but his game seems to be more of the slashing variety.
Both of these guys are 1,000-point scorers and can play both guard positions, hopefully they can catch on somewhere next year if that is the route they want to go.
Three sophomores were in the starting lineups last night and all three have contributed throughout the course of the season. PRB started Louis Bueckers and Brady Raph while WHA started Cole Rasmussen. All three players were held under double-figures last night, however, Raph tallied 17 in their playoff opener against Laporte. Bueckers was quiet in their two playoff games but had five double-figure outings on the season. Rasmussen was quiet on the scoreboard last night but was a force on the boards, he averaged 12 PPG in the first two meeting between PRB and WHA.
Looking Ahead for PRB
With this season coming to an end for PRB, the focus is now on next season. They only graduate three seniors from this squad, and they bring back four starters along with others who played significant minutes throughout the season. Highlighting that list are juniors Torry Hirschey and Nathaniel Wosmek and sophomore Brady Raph and Louis Bueckers. Throughout most of the season, Hirschey and Raph were threats from outside the arc. They went cold last night but look for those two players to lead this team next season.
Who’s #2 for the Wolves?
It was a one-man show last night for WHA, with Armstrong scoring over half of the points for the Wolves. As they look forward to Saturday’s matchup with Nevis, they’ll need secondary contributions as you can bet Nevis and head coach Scott Kramer will have a plan for Armstrong. WHA is a guard/wing heavy team, but 6’4” junior Cole Nelson could be a difference maker in the paint. He was quiet in the first half last night but ended the game with 7 points for WHA. An inside presence like Nelson could be the difference maker for WHA tomorrow night.
Can WHA Advance?
Nevis and WHA are both members of the Northland Conference and they split the season series. Both of the matchups were somewhat low-scoring affairs, with final scores in the 50’s both times. Nevis has shown the ability to ramp up the pace, finishing a few games in the 80’s and 90’s, with one final score topping 100. If this becomes a shootout I think it would favor Nevis, but if WHA can control the pace and grind out possessions it could be another close outcome. Ultimately, I think the depth and experience of Nevis prevails.