Willmar holds off Rocori
WILLMAR -- An early shower of three-pointers allowed Willmar to fight off Rocori's second-half comeback attempt and deny the Spartans' bid for a Central Lakes Conference title as the Cardinals ended the regular season by edging Rocori 59-54 Friday.
The Spartans (15-3, 19-7) came in tied with St. Cloud Tech for the top spot in the CLC standings, but Willmar (10-8, 17-9) got three 3-pointers from Sam Esboldt and another from Andrew Bangen in the first half to establish control.
St. Cloud Tech (16-2, 22-4) took care of business against last-place Fergus Falls Friday to win the conference title outright for the second straight year.
Willmar never trailed against the Spartans and led by as many as 17 points in the first half. Taylor Filipek scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. And Esboldt finished with another 18 behind four 3-pointers.
Esboldt scored eight consecutive points for Willmar during a 14-0 run early in the first half to stretch the Cardinals' lead to 20-7. Esboldt netted 15 points in the first half.
Bangen gave Willmar its biggest lead at 34-17 with a three-pointer and two free throws. Rocori then held Willmar scoreless for the final 4:25 of the first half while connecting on four free throws and a field goal to enter halftime down 34-23.
The Spartans would keep the momentum to start the second half by going on a 9-0 run to get within two. Filipek ended Rocori's 15-0 run with a two-handed dunk, but a pair of treys from Brett Eisenschenk allowed Rocori to square the game at 38-38 four minutes into the second half.
Willmar responded with a 7-0 run that featured five points Filipek and a bucket from Sam Spaulding, allowing the home team to take a 45-38 lead. Rocori would then cut the lead to one on three occasions, but the Cardinals wouldn't surrender the lead.
"We had a little more intensity and the shots were falling for one thing," said Willmar coach Steve Grove on comparing the win to the teams' first meeting which Rocori won 77-52 on Jan. 26 in Cold Spring. "Eisenschenk hit some threes to get them back in, but the kids kept their composure.
"We knew what they were playing for and we didn't want that to happen on our court. It's good to end the season with a win, especially against a team like Rocori, and we'll try to build off that."
Willmar is the No. 2 seed for the Section 2AAA playoffs and will host No. 7 New Ulm on Tuesday at 8:01 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
Willmar 59, Rocori 54
Rocori (15-3, 19-7) 23 31 -- 54
Willmar (10-8, 17-9) 34 25 -- 59
ROCORI - 18-51 FG (5-20 3-pt); 13-20 FT; 29 rebounds; 17 fouls ... Scoring: Zach Hinkemeyer 6, Ben Rausch 9, Nathan Meyer 11, Brett Eisenschenk 12, Scott Willenbring 16 ... 3-point shots: Eisenschenk 2, Hinkemeyer 1, Meyer 1, Willenbring 1 ... Rebound, assist and steal leaders not available
WILLMAR - 22-46 FG (6-12 3-pt); 9-15 FT; 30 rebounds; 19 fouls ... Scoring: Jimmy Unger 2, Jake Rambow 3, Andrew Bangen 8, Brian Reeves 2, Sam Esboldt 18, Sam Spaulding 4, Taylor Filipek 22 ... 3-point shots: Esboldt 4, Bangen 1, Filipek 1 ... Rebound leaders: Filipek 12 ... Assist leaders: Bangen 5 ... Steal leaders: Esboldt 3