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Willmar outlasts NLS in final

Willmar senior forward Sam Esboldt goes up for two points in the second half against Aaron Johnson of New London-Spicer on Monday in the final of the Bremer Holiday Classic. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton1 / 2
New London-Spicer guard Erik Tengwall sails through the lane for two points in the second half watched by teammates forward Justin Zylstra, left, and forward Brandon Zylstra (31). Forward Taylor Filipek, far right, of Willmar is too late for the block. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton2 / 2

WILLMAR -- "Classic" gets thrown around like cheap luggage when it comes to naming holiday tournaments.

But occasionally, it really fits.

At least it works for the concluding game of the two-day Bremer Bank Holiday (Boys) Classic.

In a memorable overtime game before 960 fans at the Willmar Senior High gymnasium, the Cardinals slipped by New London-Spicer 58-56.

Taylor Filipek's two free throws with seven seconds left in the extra period were the difference. The Wildcats got off a 20-footer to win just before the buzzer, but it bounced off the rim.

"That was a great game," said Steve Grove, the Willmar coach. "The teams we've played so far haven't had the best records, so this was a real measure of what kind of team we had. To beat a team of New London's caliber is big moment for our team and confirms some of the early recognition we've received."

The Cardinals, ranked No. 4 in Class AAA, go to 7-0.

The Wildcats (8-1) trailed by nine with nine minutes left but caught up and almost won at the end of regulation. Jake Essler got a good look from the corner but the shot was just a little strong and Filipek rebounded as the buzzer sounded, tied 54-all.

Erik Tengwall, who scored 14 of his 19 points in the Wildcats' post-intermission revival, drove for two points and a 56-54 Wildcats' lead.

Brian Reeves, who finished with 10 points, scored at the other end to tie it 56-56. Willmar made a stop and Reeves got fouled with 27 seconds. He missed both free throws, but Filipek stretched out for the long rebound and Willmar maintained possession.

Filipek, who ended up with 20 points including three treys in the second half, drew a foul with 7.8 seconds left and drained both free throws to end the scoring.

Justin Zylstra had a sensational first half for the Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in Class AA. The big and agile forward scored inside and outside (three treys) for 17 points by the break, but his team still trailed 32-24.

Willmar led by as many as 13, 41-28, on a Sam Spaulding rebound basket, but the Wildcats came charging back with full-court pressure that seemed to rattle the Cardinals.

Zylstra finished with a game-high 22 points, but had no field goals in the second half. Aaron Jenny added seven points, but Wildcats' center Aaron Johnson was limited to two points by Reeves and the Willmar guards who plugged the lanes to keep the ball away from the powerful 6-foot-6 senior.

Spaulding had his best game, scoring nine points to go with five rebounds. Sam Esboldt supplied 12 point, three baskets in each half.

Willmar 58, NLS 56

NLS (8-1) 24 30 2 -- 56

Willmar (7-0) 32 22 4 -- 58

NEW LONDON-SPICER - 22-62 FG (5-16 3-pt); 7-15 FT; 43 rebounds; 19 fouls ... Scoring: Derek Henle 2, Aaron Jenny 7, Erik Tengwall 19, Brandon Zylstra 2, Justin Zylstra 22, Aaron Johnson 2 ... Rebound, assist and steal leaders not available

WILLMAR - 23-43 FG (5-11 3-pt); 7-14 FT; 25 rebounds; 13 fouls ... Scoring: Jimmy Unger 3, Brian Reeves 10, Sam Esboldt 12, Sam Spaulding 9, Taylor Filipek 20, Jake Damhof 4 ... 3-point shots: Filipek 3, Spaulding 1, Unger 1 ... Rebound leaders: Reeves 5, Filipek 6 ... Assist leaders: Andrew Bangen 2 ... Steal leaders: Filipek 2 ... Blocked shots: Reeves 3

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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