REDWOOD FALLS — During Friday’s Section 3A boys basketball championship, there was a point where Central Minnesota Christian was on the ropes.
Trailing 50-39 Southwest Minnesota Christian with more than 10 minutes remaining in the game, Bluejays head coach Ted Taatjes called a timeout.
“We just talked about playing one play at a time,” Taatjes said. “There’s no 11-point shot; you can’t get it all back at once.”
CMCS rallied, chipping away before a layup from junior forward Ben Van Eps gave the team a 62-61 lead with 3:13 left.
Central Minnesota Christian held the lead the rest of the way to capture a 68-63 victory over the Eagles from Redwood Valley High School.
CMCS was second seed in 3A-North. SWMC was the top seed in 3A-South. The two teams met in last year’s section championship. The Eagles prevailed, 71-64. This time around, it was the Bluejays who earned their fifth state berth in program history and first since 2017.
“It feels amazing,” Taatjes said. “There was a point in the second half where we were down 11 points, but we stuck together and we kept grinding. We hit a couple buckets, they turned it over and before you know it, it’s a different ballgame. I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys, that’s for sure.”
The outside shot proved pivotal in the CMCS’ comeback. Sophomore guard Ethan Bulthuis hit a corner 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 52-45. Later, a long-distance shot from junior guard Case Mulder made it 56-52. After an Eagles bucket, Bluejays junior forward Caleb Vander Beek hauled in two offensive rebounds before senior forward Blake Greenwaldt hit a trey to make it 58-55 with 4:51 left.
The two teams traded buckets before a Mulder 3-pointer sliced the gap down to 61-60. CMCS forced a turnover on the ensuing possession, leading to a fast break. Greenwaldt dished it off to Van Eps for the good-ahead lay-in off the glass.
“We kept battling,” Taatjes said. “This game got tighter and tighter. Maybe there were a little bit of nerves when they were ahead and they got a little tight, but we definitely came back and took it from them.”
The Eagles did not score a field goal over the final 3:41 of regulation.
The Bluejays burned precious seconds off the clock and forced SWMC to foul. Van Eps was fouled with 9.6 seconds left, but SWMC called a timeout prior to the foul shots. When the teams returned, Van Eps was the first player on the floor and stepped to the line. He made his two free throws to bump the lead to 66-63.
SWMC had a chance to tie it, but a 3-pointer from Carter Van Hulzen hit the backboard and did not graze the rim.
“We hang our hat on our defense all year long; that’s what we do in our program,” Taatjes said. “They hit a lot of shots in the first half. ... I told them, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got to get back to the basics, keeping guys in front of us, making guys hit shots over the top, defending the post.’”
Mulder finished with a team-best 22 points. Greenwaldt had four 3-pointers as part of a 18-point effort. He also had seven rebounds and four steals. Van Eps finished with 12 points and two blocks.
Section 3A Championship
SW Christian 63
CMCS (18-4) 30 38 — 68
SW Chrisian (19-3) 32 31 — 63
CMCS - Scoring: Ethan Bulthuis 9, Case Mulder 22, Blake Greenwaldt 18, Ben Van Eps 12, Caleb Vander Beek 7 … 3-point shots: Bulthuis 1, Mulder 2, Greenwaldt 4 … Rebound leader: Vander Beek 8, Greenwaldt 7, Mulder 6 … Assist leader: Van Eps 2 … Steal leader: Greenwaldt 4 ... Block leader: Van Eps 2
SW Christian - Stats not available
Section 3AA Championship
After a 17-year hiatus, Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta is headed to state.
Trailing Pipestone by four at halftime, the Tigers outscored the Arrows 30-18 in the second half to secure the Section 3AA championship in Montevideo.
It will be Morris/CA’s fifth state trip. The previous state berths came in 1955, 1980, 1994 and 2004.
Jackson Loge led a trio of Tigers in double figures, finishing with 18 points on 7 of 17 shooting. He also had 11 rebounds, six assists, three steals and four blocks, all team highs.
Thomas Tiernan was 7-for-7 from the free-throw line en route to a 14-point effort. Brandon Jergenson added 12 points for Morris/CA, going 2 of 5 from 3-point range.
Joining Morris/CA in the Class AA tournament field are: Caledonia; Waseca; St. Croix Prep; Minneapolis North; Annandale; Moose Lake-Willow River; and Fergus Falls.