Clash in the Grove
I've had 18 hours to think about this one but I'm still at a loss. It was the rare time when being there is the only way to know what happened. Sure, it's possibly to express some of the emotion and excitement from every game that ends in a like manner, regardless of the level of competition. To dismiss it as small high school basketball from North Dakota & Minnesota would be a mistake & I don't think I'm over exaggerating. But to do it justice is also a challenge. But I'll give it a shot, because it is well deserved.
Oak Grove won the game. They lead from the opening tip, often comfortably. They came out of the gates with hot shooting and enough defense. They had an 11 point advantage after 16 minutes. Hillcrest didn't have an answer for the scoring of Andrew Christianson & Bryce Bakkegard, but the trio of Sean McGuire, Tommy Thompson & Kyler Newman gave it their best efforts. Oak Grove got contributions from six additional players in the first half, while only one other Comet managed to put it through during the first half.
Things didn't look good for Hillcrest. The gym got quiet. It seemed like the fans were resigning themselves to a decisive loss to their other private school foe. But a team filled with many of the same players whom had just ended a long football state playoff drought can't be defined as quitters. Add to that one of the best coaches in the state and this one was not over at the half.
It started on defense for the visiting Comets. Slowing down Oak Groves flame throwers and picking it up in transition and in half court sets helped them close the gap in the third quarter. Thanks in part to a surprising 10 point spurt by Daniel Preston, the Comets kept the lead from getting wider while Thompson, McGuire & Reggie Undseth carried the rest of the offensive load. A key reason for the change to the lead trio was that Kyler Newman got hit for his fifth foul during the fourth quarter. In his absence Sam Isaac had to step in and while he only managed 2 points, his defense was instrumental.
Ultimately, the game boiled down to Thompson & McGuire versus Christianson. Advantage Hillcrest. Tommy Thompson was nearly unconscious from behind the three point line, finishing the game with 22 points, 18 from deep and a crucial 2 at the end of the game from the stripe. His running mate, Sean McGuire, finished with one more, tallying 23 points and an equally important bucket from under the basket off an inbounds play. All the effort gave Hillcrest a three point lead with seconds to go in the game.
What had been a cacophonous silence, became a raucous atmosphere from both sets of bleachers. Crunch time and a close game woke the crowds up to cheer on their students. The Grovers didn't just let it slip away. They got an advantageous and I think controversial foul call on Christianson who wisely went into a shooting motion simultaneously and got three chances to score with the clock stopped. There wasn't a worse player that Hillcrest could have put on the line at that point. He made the first. He missed the second! And made the third to leave his squad down one point. They fouled Thompson on the inbounds and he nailed both of his chances.
Three point game.
Five seconds left.
Everyone knew who was going to take the shot. He got a good look too but Christianson's last shot of the game came up short as he crumpled to the court in dismay. A full gamut of emotions by the fans in attendance. A great win by the Minnesota school. A tough loss for the Grovers.
Like I said, they won the game, but they lost the last couple of minutes and that was enough for Hillcrest to get the W in the books.
I'll be very surprised if Oak Grove doesn't make a good run in the North Dakota Class B tournament. Likewise, Hillcrest seems poised for another good run in their playoff bracket. So good luck to each team & thanks for a great game!
Player of the Game
Even from the team on the losing end, Andrew Christianson is deserving of the extra recognition but winning counts for a lot. Sean McGuire is also deserving but during the game and now 18 hours later it was apparent to me who it should be.