MARSHALL—Minnewaska has perfected the art of the comeback. For the third time in as many games, the Lakers completed a second half comeback to stay alive in the playoffs. Thursday's version just happened to have a bit more on the line. Minnewaska is heading to the Class AA state tournament with a 56-54 victory over Pipestone for the Section 3AA title Thursday night at Southwest Minnesota State University after trailing nearly the entire game.
The Willmar WarHawks are set for their first-ever playoff trip but their second-season welcoming comes at the hands of a familiar foe. Granite City is set to host the WarHawks Friday night in the NA3HL playoff-opener at Sports Arena East in Sauk Rapids. Willmar will host the second leg of the best-of-three series Saturday night at the Willmar Civic Center.
WILLMAR — Minnewaska didn't need to lead for long in order to snag a 58-51 overtime victory in the Section 3AA tournament against Morris/Chokio-Alberta Thursday night at Willmar High School. The Tigers led nearly from start-to-finish, holding a 12-11 lead in the opening seven minutes, only surrendering the lead once for fewer than 10 seconds prior to the game's final minute. Minnewaska head coach Phil Johnsrud said his team often looks to seniors Matthew Gruber, Jackson Johnsrud and Garrett Jensen to carry the scoring load. Thursday night was Jensen's turn.
ST. PAUL—For one period Wednesday, the dream of a Class A state hockey title was alive and well for Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato. There are times, however, where one team has another's number and that was the case for Orono over the Dragons. The No. 3 Spartans exploded for four second period goals on the way to a 6-1 quarterfinal victory at the Xcel Energy Center, setting up a semifinal meeting with Mahtomedi, the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
PAYNESVILLE — It's a common mantra that defense wins championships, and if that's the case then Eden Valley-Watkins could be finishing the season with some hardware for their hard work. The Eagles topped New London-Spicer Tuesday night, ending the Wildcats' season with a 44-27 slobberknocker at Paynesville High School in the Section 3AA-North final. It was a defensive battle from start to finish, as Eden Valley-Watkins started with a 17-11 first half lead.
Western Wisconsin Technical College held the largest lead of Wednesday's game with Ridgewater but the Warriors, fighting for a chance for the playoffs, held the final lead of the game for a 51-48 victory. The Warriors roared back down the stretch after WWT held a 39-31 lead to clinch a spot in the Region 13A tournament. It was a difficult shooting night for both teams, which meant the Warriors' superior rebounding ability proved to be a gamechanger. Ridgewater outrebounded their opponent 65-56, thanks to a combined 34 from Alexis Schmitz and Heidi Sellmann.
WILLMAR - Willmar's boys hockey team opened up its Section 3A playoff run with a commanding 7-2 win over Fairmont Tuesday night at the Willmar Civic Center. The Cardinals exploded for a five-goal second period, in part thanks to a pair of goals from Ian Carruthers. Carruthers also had a pair of assists.
The Willmar WarHawks didn't get long to celebrate their first-ever playoff berth. The Alexandria Blizzard visited their familial club to congratulate the WarHawks in their own way, by delivering the WarHawks a 5-4 loss on Sunday afternoon. The WarHawks have four games left in the regular season, with one more against the Blizzard Friday in Alexandria. On Sunday, Alexandria struck first and scored two goals in the third period to fend off the WarHawks in Willmar's first game since clinching a playoff berth following Friday's game against New Ulm.
It's been a few years, but ACGC is heading back to the Class A State Tournament. The perennial power is back after a period of dormancy with a close 28-25 win over Sibley East in the Section 4A final Friday night. Tanner Berghuis scored a 6-4 decision victory at 220 pounds to clinch the victory and help the Falcons back to the state tournament for the first time since 2015. ACGC opened up a 12-0 run in the first three weight classes and used four decisions down the stretch to keep up with the lead and win. Section 4A
The winter sports season always feels the longest. The cold weather and early nights sometimes make it all feel like a blur of games and matches as we enter the Willmar gymnasium for the 20th time of the season. Don't worry, though. We've finally reached the point where it all truly matters and each match can end the season. Yes, Jim Mora, I'm talking playoffs.