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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton New London-Spicer’s Ethan Bohlsen, right, fights for the ball with Annandale’s Andrew Fort during their Class AA state tournament quarterfinal game on Wednesday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The Wildcats’ Ryan Vraa (1) and Shane Zylstra (4), and Annandale’s Matt Miller (5) look on.

Boys basketball: NLS falls in state quarterfinals

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

MINNEAPOLIS — In a splendid display of prep basketball, Annandale and New London-Spicer battled 36 minutes Wednesday at Target Center for a place in the Class AA final four.

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The decision went to the Cardinals 76-70, the third time they’d defeated their Wright County Conference peer this winter.

The ’Cats fought into the last three minutes attempting to upset the No. 1 seed. Adam Essler hit a three-pointer at 3:19 that drew NLS within two of the lead at 69-67. But the Cardinals got to the line often down the stretch. Chase Knickerbocker, a 6-foot-6 junior forward made 5 of 6 at the line to put Annandale up 74-67 with 31 seconds left and Kyler Fobbe added two more at 15 seconds, leaving only Essler’s three-pointer to close out the night.

New London-Spicer (19-11) played some outstanding basketball in the Target spotlight. Annandale puts a tall, strong, disciplined lineup on the court which responded on the do-or-go-home night by shooting 50 percent from the field (26 of 52) and 8 of 14 tries good from the bonus ring.

“Annandale certainly won this game,” NLS head coach Chad Schmiesing said outside the dejected ’Cats’ locker room. “I don’t feel that we lost it. They just outplayed us in many areas.  Their transition offense is fantastic and they made their free throws down the stretch.”

Annandale coach Skip Dolan is out to get his kids to the championship game after placing third a year ago. Five of last season’s top eight are back.

“You know what makes you tough down here is playing in the Wright County,” said Dolan, a 1974 Renville graduate in his 17th season at the Annandale helm. “We’ve got four teams at state and six were in section championships.”

In Class AAA, Orono, coached by Bird Island native Barry Wohler, took out Marshall while Holy Family expelled Cloquet from the field.

Annandale meets Caledonia on Friday in the semifinals.

Shane Zylstra, the spring-legged junior, led the Wildcats with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He had two of his crowd-pleasing dunks in the second half.

The first was a slam from the right side that left him ever so briefly hanging from the rim until his legs settled perpendicular to the floor. One of the three officials didn’t like and whistled a technical.

The Wildcat fans howled their disapproval. A writer for Basketball News on press row yelled out “lousy call, lousy call.” And when one official came to the press table side to hand the ball for the inbound pass after the two foul shots, the neutral observer told the official “You better help your buddy out” meaning the official who made the call.

It did seem an inappropriate time to make the call. It meant a three-point swing and left the Wildcats trailing 58-53 at 9:01 instead of 57-55.

But the ’Cats didn’t sulk. Zylstra’s jumper made it 63-62 at 5:03 and an Ethan Bohlsen layup made it a one-point gap again at 65-64 at 5:01.

“New London-Spicer played us so hard every time this year,” said Dolan. “We pulled away from them late at our place and they led most of the way at New London. We knew about it being hard to beat a good team three times, but I’d rather have the two wins coming in than none.”

The Cardinals five starters did all the scoring and were each in double figures led by Knickerbocker with 23. Their star forward Matt Miller finished with 16 points, though he sat 7 minutes in the first half, which ended with the ’Cats in front 36-33. Andrew Fort, like Miller a 6-3 forward, supplied 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Essler finished with 15 points, about 10 over his average. Jonny DeGeest had a big game off the bench with 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting while Brett Olson deliver 11 of his 14 points in the first half. Bohlsen, who played 26 minutes off the bench, pulled in 11 rebounds and scored seven points. Ryan Vraa handed out five assists plus making three steals.

Five seniors all in the rotation graduate: Vraa, Essler, DeGeest, Olson and Tyson Gislason.

“It’s been an interesting season,” said Schmiesing. “After playing in the state football finals, we had three practices before we played. It took us two months to feel like we had everything in. Then to play in the Wright with a lot of AAA schools, it’s very physical, very much a grind. We took our lumps but it made us a better team.”

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