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Boys basketball: Cardinals advance to 2AAA semis

Tribune photo by Tom Larson Willmar’s Kyler Johnson drives for two of his 23 points in the Cardinals’ 78-51 win over Hutchinson Wednesday in the Section 2AAA playoffs at Willmar High School. The Cardinals evened their record at 13-13 and advance to play No. 1-seed Waconia at 6 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota State-Mankato.

WILLMAR — The Willmar boys basketball team has had a wavy ride through its 2012-13 season.

The Cardinals opened the season with four straight losses, then they won five in a row. Then they lost three, then won three. You get the picture.

The streaky Cards lost four of five to end the regular season and faced a Section 2AAA first-round game against Hutchinson, which downed Willmar by three points in the season-opener.

True to form, the Cardinals absolutely owned Hutch in the rematch, building 30 point leads in the second half and thumping the Tigers 78-51 on Wednesday at Willmar High School.

“Inconsistency is how our season has gone,” said Cardinals head coach Steve Grove. “We didn’t finish the season as strong as we’d like, but in the postseason things get a little more tense. I like how we reacted tonight.”

The fourth-seed Cardinals are 13-13 overall and plays No. 1-seed Waconia (22-5) at 6 p.m. Saturday in the 2AAA semifinals at Minnesota State-Mankato.

Willmar suffered through a horrible shooting night in the first meeting against Hutchinson but that wasn’t a problem on Wednesday. The Cardinals turned a five-point lead into an 18-point halftime advantage in the final seven minutes of the first half.

Kyler Johnson hit 50 percent from the field and from 3-point ranged and led the Cardinals with 23 points. Austin Rambow scored 16 points and Joe Leuze hit three 3-pointers and finished with 15 points, 3 assists and 3 steals.

“Since they beat us the first time, we had revenge on our minds,” Rambow said. “We didn’t shoot well the first time but tonight we started off well and got some confidence.”

The hot start carried over. The Cardinals outscored the Tigers 16-3 in the first six minutes of the second half to take a 31-point lead.

“Our shooting the first game wasn’t the greatest but we came out on fire tonight,” Johnson said. “We knew their zone would be tough for us but we switched it up and really came out hot.”

Excellent shooting was a key to victory but Grove was equally impressed with his team’s play on the other end of the court.

“Making shots, that was big time,” Grove said. “Defensively, I liked what we did in the first half. We kept them in front, made them shoot over us and we rebounded. I hope we can continue to play that way.

Section 2AAA Quarterfinals

Willmar 78, Hutchinson 51

Hutchinson (10-16)    25 26 — 51

Willmar (13-13)    43 35 — 78

HUTCHINSON – 22-59 FG (1-11 3-pt); 6-16 FT; 30 rebounds; 18 fouls … Scoring: xx … 3-point shots: McKinley Anderson 8, Riley Steenhoek Jayden Juergensen 3, Alex Nassirzadeh 6, Shaun Schindler 16, Marcus Hahn 2, Adam Elliott 2, Matt Kieser 2, Ben Lies 8 … Rebound leaders: NA … Assist leaders: NA … Steal leaders: NA

WILLMAR – 27-60 FG (6-11 3-pt); 18-26 FT; 23 rebounds; 12 fouls … Scoring: Joe Leuze 15, Joel Carter 1, Jordan Geurtz 6, Sean Zuidema 3, Josh Holtz 2, Dylan Schueler 3, Cody Magnuson 4, Kyler Johnson 23, Austin Rambow 16, Adam Nibaur 1, Alex Grove 2, Austin Grove 2 … 3-point shots: Leuze 3, Johnson 3 … Rebound leaders: Leuze 3, Rambow 3, Alex Grove 3 … Assist leaders: Leuze 3, Johnson 3, Austin Rambow 3, Alex Grove 3 … Steal leaders: Leuze 3, Tyler Stegeman 2, Magnuson 2

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

(320) 214-4372