MACCRAY has 1 more hurdle to reach state
MARSHALL -- Being unbeaten and top-ranked always puts a bulls eye on your back. Whether anyone can hit the target remains to be seen.
Ellsworth (24-5) will be the next to attempt to put a number in the right-hand column of MACCRAY's record when they face the Wolverines in the Section 3A boys basketball championship at 8 p.m. today at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Some teams get complacent when they win every game during the season. And sometimes a loss late in the season serves as a wake-up call and the team realizes it has to play its best at all times.
"I agree, but I didn't want to lose a game to accomplish that," said MACCRAY coach Gary Nelson. "We basically said 'Let's play as hard as we can every game and see what happens.' This is a special group. We didn't have that game where the whole game was a struggle for us."
Nelson has a solution for keeping things in perspective for his 28-0 team.
"We tell the kids that every team we meet in the tournament is undefeated like us," he remarked. "And to stay undefeated, they must player hard no matter what other people have rated your team or how they view your team. We also know that we uusually get the other team's best game."
The only close games the Wolverines have had this season was against Minneota, winning by six points twice and 78-66 in the Section 3A-North championship.
"We didn't shoot well (against Minneota)," said Nelson, noting the team shot only 38 percent in the last game. "That's something we hope to avoid against Ellsworth."
The Wolverines have scored 80-or-more points in 13 of their 28 games this season and have not been held under 68 points in a game.
MACCRAY's Shaun Condon, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, leads the area in scoring with a 23.2 average. Seth Hinrichs, a 6-3 junior post, averages 15.8 ppg; Dylan Aeikens, a 6-2 senior guard, 12.5 ppg; Caleb Hanson, a 6-1 senior forward, 7.7 ppg; and Darrin Caspers, a 6-2 senior forward, 5.7 ppg.
"I'm not sure if you're going to completely shut down MACCRAY, or especially a player like Condon," said Ellsworth coach Tyler Morris. "So we need to understand that they're going to hit some shots. We need to make them take tough, contested shots and we can't give them second chances."
Ellsworth has three players that average in double figures, including 6-foot-9 senior post Trevor Gruis, a Mr. Minnesota finalist who averages 18 points, 11 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
Casey Schilling, a 6-5 sophomore forward, averages 16 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 4.5 apg and 2.5 spg. Dalton Huisman, a 6-0 sophomore guard, averages 12 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 apg and 2 spg.
"We think that we need to emphasize the need to run and pressure them all over the court," said Nelson. "We prefer (Gruis) doesn't set up on the block without any pressure on the guards. We must be able to guard their three-point shooters with a hand in their face."
Both teams like to launch from the cheap seats, both coaches realize they need to play defense on the perimeter and both teams will likely employ a man-to-man defense.
And one team realizes they have a target on their back and the other is trying to be the first one to hit it.