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Willmar chewed up by Tigers

Willmar's Taylor Filipek ran into the teeth of the Hutchinson defense in the first half, including Eric Thompson, left, Jack Haffley and Jacob Brusehaver in the Section 2AAA boys basketball championship game at MSU-Mankato. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)1 / 2
Sam Esboldt, right, of Willmar was 5-for-5 from three-point range in the second half of the Cardinals' Section 2AAA championship game against Hutchinson Thursday at Taylor Center in Mankato. Watching on this play is Mark Dunham of Willmar. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)2 / 2

MANKATO -- OK, so Hutchinson can play basketball, too.

The Tigers proved it's not just a football school on Thursday night as they leveled Willmar 77-59 in the Section 2AAA championship game at Taylor Center.

The No. 1 seed played a dominating first half to pile up an 18-point lead, 39-21. The Cardinals, the No. 2 seed in the section, recuperated in the halftime locker room, but it was too late. An astounding half of shooting by Sam Esboldt wasn't enough as the Tigers continued to attack the rim and both teams would score 38 points.

"They crashed the boards," said Willmar's Taylor Filipek, who had a game-high 22 points despite an off-night shooting. "We knew they would be strong and physical but we definitely didn't know they'd be that quick."

The Tigers, seemingly, couldn't miss in the first half while Willmar misfired repeatedly. The Tigers would shoot 49 percent for the game with a combination of long jump shots and slicing moves to the rim for lay-ins.

Hutchinson makes its first trip to the state tournament in boys basketball since 1966 when it was still a single-class event.

Hutchinson head coach Paul VanderHagen, a 1983 Bird Island-Lake Lillian graduate, said seven seniors in his 10-man rotation was a key.

"I think we were wearing them down in the second half," said VanderHagen, who is in his 10th year as head coach. "We had eight of nine back from last year and we just concentrate on moving the ball. Our quickness gets us a lot of shots."

Filipek sank a three to start the game and after two Hutchinson scores, Brian Reeves followed with an inside move for his only points of the game and a 5-4 Willmar lead, the Cardinals' last.

The Tigers demonstrated their balance and depth at that point. Tony Trettin, Adam Hjelter, Jesse Brooks and Eric Thompson each hit a two-point basket and then Jack Haffley capped the run with a pair of three-pointers for a 20-12 lead at 10:24.

"They shot the lights out," said Willmar coach Steve Grove. "We had talked to some people and we didn't expect them to be such good outside shooters. The name of the game is that they controlled the boards and were hot shooting. Hats off to Hutchinson."

After an ice-cold first half, Willmar picked up its tempo and Esboldt caught fire after a scoreless first half.

The senior forward scored 11 points in the first two minutes of the second half and would end up 5-for-5 on three-pointers and 7-of-8 shooting overall for 19 points.

The sharpshooting got the Willmar fans back in the game. Filipek canned a three to cut the Hutchinson lead to 10 points at 63-53 and VanderHagen took his second timeout with 5:15 on the clock.

Hutchinson (25-3) scored the next seven points, bolstered by Joe Wheatley's four points at the free- throw line. Esboldt hit his fifth consecutive three to stop the run, but the 14-point deficit was way too much to make up in the last three minutes.

Willmar made 19-of-55 field goal attempts.

"Their defense made us go where they wanted us to go," commented Grove on Willmar's struggle to score, especially in the first half.

Hutchinson's balanced offense was led by Brad Muckenhirn with 14 points, Hjelter with 13 and Haffley with 11.

"This isn't the best way to end your senior year," said Filipek, "but we've got a bunch of promising underclassmen that helped us to make the late run."

Willmar finished 19-10.

Hutchinson 77, Willmar 59

Willmar (19-10) 21 38 -- 59

Hutchinson (25-3) 39 38 -- 77

WILLMAR - 19-55 FG (10-25 3-pt); 11-16 FT; 23 rebounds; 16 fouls ... Scoring: Jimmy Unger 2, Jake Rambow 2, Andrew Bangen 7, Brian Reeves 2, Sam Esboldt 19, Sam Spaulding 5, Taylor Filipek 22 ... 3-point shots: Bangen 2, Esboldt 5, Spaulding 1, Filipek 2 ... Rebound, assist and steal leaders not available

HUTCHINSON - 27-55 FG (8-19 3-pt); 15-22 FT; 33 rebounds; 16 fouls ... Scoring: Adam Hjelter 13, Travis Pack 2, Jack Haffley 11, Trent Kucera 3, Joe Wheatley 9, Brad Muckenhirn 14, Jesse Brooks 6, Tony Trettin 8, Jacob Brusehaver 2, Eric Thompson 7 ... 3-point shots: Hjelter 3, Haffley 3, Kucera 1, Brooks 1 ... Rebound leaders: Thompson 8, Muckenhirn 6, Brooks 5 ... Assist leaders: Hjelter 2, Haffley 2, Wheatley 2 ... Steal leaders: Wheatley 2

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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