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Boys basketball: NLS soars into Class AA tourney

Tribune photo by Tom Larson New London-Spicer’s Shane Zylstra throws down one of his two dunks in the Section 6AA championship game on Friday at St. Cloud State University’s Halenbeck Hall. Zylstra scored 16 points and had 13 rebounds as the Wildcats earned a Class AA state tournament berth with a 70-59 win over Melrose.

ST. CLOUD — Echoes of the recent past can be heard in New London and Spicer. This year’s New London-Spicer football team made a run to the state championship game, just as the 2009 team did. And now the NLS boys basketball team will get its chance to make some noise in the Class AA state tournament, just like the Wildcats’ teams from 2008-2010. NLS exploded out of the blocks against Melrose on Friday, running up a 21-point halftime lead and then staving off Seth Noll’s 3-point assault in the second half to claim the Section 6AA title, 70-59, at St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall. "After we didn’t win the state championship in football, we had the goal to come out and get one (title); we really want to get one," said NLS senior guard Ryan Vraa, who scored 13 points and hit four free throws in the final minute to seal the game. "I don’t know if we can be compared to those (’08-’10) teams because they won two championships. But we want to get one." The Wildcats improved to 19-10 overall and won their fourth-straight postseason game. They will find out if they will be seeded and their opponent today. NLS knew what it was going to get from Melrose, which was playing in the 6AA title game for a second-straight year after losing all five starters from last season. And the Wildcats were prepared, said head coach Chad Schmiesing. "I told the guys before the game that we’re ready for anything they’ll throw at us," Schmiesing said. "We’ve experienced everything this year. We’re battle tested. We knew we had to play our best basketball at the end of the year and we’re close to that." NLS played its best basketball of the postseason in the first 10 minutes on Friday. They ran out to a 24-7 lead midway through the first half, pumped the margin to 20 points at 34-14, then, after Melrose closed the gap slightly, took a 42-21 lead into the break. "That was huge for us to start the way we did," Schmiesing said. "It’s harder to play in an atmosphere like this, when it’s so loud. It’s hard to communicate and when you’re playing from behind, it makes it that much harder." But Noll made his best effort on the offensive end as Melrose deployed a zone to throttle back the fast-breaking Wildcats. Noll, who hit nine 3-point shots and scored a game-high 34 points, heated up midway through the second half and so did the rest of the Dutchmen. Noll scored eight straight points in a two-minute span and the Dutchmen’s Tyler Braegelman converted a three-point play with 2:20 left to make it a five-point game at 63-58. But the Wildcats’ defense stiffened, allowing just one more point in the final seconds, while Shane Zylstra, Adam Essler and Vraa combined to hit seven of eight free throws down the stretch. "We tried to keep stepping on the pedal in the second half and it didn’t go as well as we wanted it to," said NLS’ Brett Olson, who matched Zylstra with 16 points. "But we really held on and made our free throws at the end to get it done." The Wildcats play in the mostly Class AAA Wright County Conference during the season, and Schmiesing reminded his team that some of the failures they endured in conference play would pay dividends this time of year. "You don’t win games at this point in the season if you don’t execute," Schmiesing said. "You’ve got to make your shots, execute on defense and communicate. Do all those little things that add up to a big difference at the end." NLS 70, Melrose 59 Melrose (19-10)....................21 38 — 59 NLS (19-10).................42 28 — 70 MELROSE – 22-51 FG (11-23 3-pt); 4-9 FT; 22 rebounds; 13 fouls … Scoring: Ben Klaphake 4, Colton Meyer 4, Tyler Braegelman 10, Seth Noll 34, Cesar Cervantes 2, Cole Van Beck 5 … 3-point shots: Klaphake 1, Noll 9, Van Beck 1 … Rebound leaders: Meyer 8, Braegelman 7 … Assist leaders: Cervantes 3 … Steal leaders: Noll 2, Cervantes 2 NEW LONDON-SPICER – 28-57 FG (4-20 3-pt); 10-12 FT; 41 rebounds; 17 fouls … Scoring: Shane Zylstra 16, Brett Olson 16, Tyson Gislason 2, Ryan Vraa 13, Adam Essler 7, Jonny DeGeest 4, Ethan Bohlsen 12 … 3-point shots: Olson 2, Vraa 1, Essler 1 … Rebound leaders: Zylstra 13, Gislason 12, Olson 7 … Assist leaders: Vraa 4, Essler 4 … Steal leaders: Vraa 4, Essler 2, Bohlsen 2

Tom Larson

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

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