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Tribune file photo Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa’s James Kuefler looks to take a shot against Paynesville earlier this season.

Boys basketball: BBE heads to state as top seed

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sports Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

BROOTEN — Any given Sunday is usually associated with the National Football League. It’s a term that can give underdogs — regardless of what sport — motivation to pull off an upset of their own. It’s also something that the Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa boys basketball team is well aware of.

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The top-ranked Jaguars cleared one hurdle in aspirations of winning another Class A state title by claiming its third section championship in four years last Friday. This year’s appearance, which starts out today at 11 a.m. at Williams Arena against Park Christian, could have easily been their fourth straight, but they were upset in last year’s Section 6A-South semifinals. The loss still stings, but it also fuels BBE’s drive for another championship.

“We use it as motivation,” said BBE star senior guard Brian Goodwin, who was recently named one of the five Mr. Basketball finalists. “It’s in the back of our minds and it has helped us this year.”

Goodwin and his team-best 24 points-per-game scoring average have helped BBE produce an impressive 28-1 record and remain on top of the Class A poll this season. It’s lone loss was against Duke signee Tyus Jones and Apple Valley in late December, and the 36-point loss to the Class AAAA top-ranked team didn’t sit well with the Jaguars.

“We were all disappointed,” said BBE coach Dave Montbriand. “We didn’t shoot well and (Apple Valley) played better defense. It should’ve been more competitive, but it was our worst shooting night in a while.”

Ever since BBE has won 21 straight by outscoring its opponents by an average of 34 points while scoring 82 points a game.

“They are a great team,” said Park Christian coach Erv Inniger, who came out of retirement to coach the Falcons for just this season. “Not only do they have great balance, but they don’t beat themselves and they don’t make mistakes. They have nine seniors and they’ve been through this before.”

This is the first trip to state for the private Christian school from Moorhead. The Falcons repeatedly tried to get Inniger back on the court after coaching men’s basketball 20-plus years at Golden Valley Lutheran Junior College, Augsburg College in Minneapolis and North Dakota State University. Inniger, who left NDSU in 1992 as the school’s all-time winningest coach, agree to a one-year deal so he could mentor his assistants to become a head coach someday.

“I’m 69 and this wasn’t on my bucket list,” said Innger. “I’ve never been a high school coach before, but it’s been great, though. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Park Christian (22-9) has four players scoring in double figures, including Hunter Nickel, a 6-foot-5 center that Montbriand thinks could give his Jaguars some trouble.

“He’s an excellent center and one of the best we’ll see,” said Montbriand. “He’s really active and a great leaper.”

BBE has the size — Borgerding, Kuefler and Nick Benton — to match up with Nickel and the rest of the Falcons’ front court. The trio has combined to average nearly 30 points and 20 rebounds a game. On the season BBE has limited its opponents to shoot just 35 percent from the field and force an average of 19 turnovers a game.

“We’ve had good stretches before, but this is the best we’ve had,” said Montbriand. “We’ve been so dominating, with 10 points the closest a team has been from us. We get up 10 and they want to get up 20 and then 30. We play the same way whether we’re up 30 or if it’s tied. They have a great killer instinct.”

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