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State Basketball: Dragons prevail in OT, play in semis Friday

Litchfield's Riley Pater looks to go up for a shot against Redwood Valley's Alec Koster (11) during the Dragons' 64-55 double overtime win Wednesday in the Minnesota State Boys Basketball Tournament at Williams Arena. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton.

MINNEAPOLIS — There’s something about Williams Arena to bring out the excitement of high-school basketball.

The Barn was wasn’t full like the old days of one-size-fits-all basketball, but it was plenty noisy and there was no lack of edge-of-your-seat drama as the Litchfield Dragons finally repelled the Redwood Valley Cardinals 64-55 in double overtime in the Class AA quarterfinals.

The Dragons (25-5) play Esko (27-4) in the Class AA semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday at the Target Center. Esko defeated Hayfield 60-54 in the late quarterfinals game Wednesday at Williams Arena.

Litchfield and Redwood Valley started the second extra period at 54-all.

The Cardinals’ Alec Koster sank the first of two free throws at 3:18 for the lead but it would be Redwood’s only point of the four-minute frame and the team’s star would finish with 27 points.

Zach Whitchurch, one of the five senior starters for the Dragons, got free for a layup on a keen assist from big man Riley Pater to put Litch in front 56-55. Zach Kinny, on an assist from Dylan Koll, got inside for an uncontested layup for a 58-55 lead with just under a minute left.

Then it was Cameron Sundmark, open for another layup off a defensive rebound by Koll. That made it 60-55 and the Dragons finished it out at the line, with Koll and Kinny both hitting two free throws in the final 15 seconds.

Kinny scored 15 of his team-high 18 points post-intermission. In fact, those 15 points all came starting with less than 11 minutes left in the second half after the Dragons had been outscored 15-2 out of the locker room to fall back 38-30.

Out of a Litchfield time out, Kinny hit a jumper followed by a Sundmark three-pointer and the Dragons were back in business.

“He’s been our guy,” said Litchfield head coach John Carlson. “I don’t think he wanted it to end. He makes us run and he started attacking the basket.”

Off a feed by Kinny, Koll nailed a 3-point shot to get the Redwood lead down to one, 44-43.

Zach Whitchurch’s free shot tied it 44-44, but Koster was fouled on a triple attempt and sank all three freebies for a 47-44 lead at 4:19. Kinny worked free in the lane for a difficult lay-in in traffic but the Dragons fell back 49-46.

Whitchurch knotted the score again 49-all with a trey from the wing at 1:53.

Redwood got off the last shot, by Koster, a 20-footer while hounded by Koll and Whitchurch, which banged off the rim.

In the first overtime, Kinny sank a 3-pointer and a deuce for a 54-51 Litch advantage but Koster dropped the hammer again, his sixth 3-pointer of the game, to forge a 54-54 tie at 1:01. The Dragons worked 55 seconds off the clock before Kinny’s twisting 10-footer failed to fall.

Kinny’s layup made it 58-55 in the second OT; Koster got an open shot from the deep corner for the tie with 42 seconds left but when Koll rebounds and Sundmark scored at the other end with 31 seconds left the Dragons were in command 60-55.

“Sundmark did a great job on Koster,” said Carlson. Sundmark, another senior, didn’t start but played 29 minutes and finished with 8 points and 2 steals.

“I think we pulled our defense together in the end,” said Koll, who finished with 11 points and 7 rebounds. “They are a good-shooting team so we cut down on the passing lanes and just got on them more.”

Carlson said he thought the Cardinals were working so hard on defense it eventually took a toll at the offensive end.

“It takes a lot of energy to play at that pace at both ends of the court,” Carlson said.

Pater had a big game with 11 points (8 in the first half) and 9 rebounds, plus 4 assists and 4 steals.

The Cardinals (24-6) were impressive; they effectively spread out the Litchfield defense to create opportunities both outside and inside, though they had only one starter over six-foot.

Steven Runkel supplied 12 points on 4-of-8 3-point shooting; R.J. Juell, at 6-foot-3, nabbed 10 rebounds to go with 7 points.

Whitchurch, a Dragons’ tri-captain, commented in the narrow hallway under the Williams’ lower deck: “It was really intense but I think we stayed poised and under control. We knew Redwood would be good and they could really shoot.”

Before Wednesday night, Litchfield last played at Williams Arena in 2000, the first of three consecutive Class AA titles.

Class AA quarterfinals

Litchfield 64, Redwood Valley 55, 2OT

Redwood Vall. (24-6)    23 26 5  1  — 55

Litchfield (25-5)    28 21 5 10 — 64

REDWOOD VALLEY – 19-50 FG (12-34 3-pt); 5-7 FT; 32 rebounds; 15 fouls … Scoring: Thane Widmer 2, Alec Koster 27, Mitchell Fischer 2, RJ Juell 7, Steven Runkel 12, Taquez Perkins 2, Jordan Ford 2 … 3-point shots: Koster 6, Juell 1, Runkel 4, Ford 1 … Rebound leaders: Juell 10, Koster 7 … Assist leaders: Fischer 6 … Steal leaders: Perkins 3

LITCHFIELD – 24-51 FG (7-21 3-pt); 9-13 FT; 30 rebounds; 10 fouls … Scoring: Zach Whitchurch 8, Dylan Koll 11, Zach Kinny 18, Joel Madsen 6, Riley Pater 11, Cameron Sundmark 8, Alex Hendricks 2 … 3-point shots: Koll 3, Sundmark 2, Whitchurch 1, Kinny 1 … Rebound leaders: Pater 9, Koll 7, Kinny 4 … Assist leaders: Kinny 4, Pater 4, Koll 3 … Steal leaders: Pater 4, Hendricks 2, Kinny 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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