Boys basketball: Looking for a Cinderella? Try Section 3AA
NLS, Montevideo and Redwood Valley all weren't supposed to be playing for sub-section championships Saturday, but they are.
MARSHALL — The area's official Cinderella sub-section is 3AA.
Upsets have run rampant in 3AA. Three of the four finalists in the North and South sub-sections weren't supposed to be here a week ago.
And yet, fifth-seeded New London-Spicer plays second-seeded Eden Valley-Watkins for the 3AA-North title at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and No. 5 Redwood Valley goes against No. 6 Montevideo for the 3AA-South championship at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. Both games are at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Note the time changes. The games were moved up to avoid looming storms, kind of like all the playoff games were played Wednesday instead of Thursday.
But schedule changes have been the norm this season. Ask NLS.
The Wildcats began the season with three postponements because of their state football championship, which also was late because of scheduling issues with the main tenants of U.S. Bank Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings. NLS won the Class AAA state title Dec. 2 by beating Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 27-26 on a last-second TD.
Since then, NLS has been re-scheduling basketball games seemingly all season, squeezing in those early games around numerous weather-related postponements in mid-December, January and February. Planning anything while winding up with a schedule that has included 12 of its games being played back-to-back has made the season a challenge.
And yet, the Wildcats are in the sub-section championship against Eden Valley-Watkins. NLS upset top-seeded Morris/Chokio-Alberta, the defending section champion, 49-35 on Wednesday at the Big Red Gym in Willmar and should give EV-W all it wants Saturday.
The teams did play this year and NLS lost 55-53 in overtime Feb. 11 at Eden Valley. That came after a Feb. 10 win over Annandale, the defending state Class AA champion, 50-37 in the Battle of the Skips. That's NLS head coach Skip Wright going against Annandale head coach Skip Dolan.
The Wildcats have figured out their style. They're a strong defensive team and will make the Eagles work hard for points. NLS is 16-12, but went through a stretch from Jan. 14-30 where it lost seven of eight games, including losses to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 72-61, Annandale 55-45 and Dassel-Cokato 65-60. The Wildcats then beat Redwood Valley, another 3AAA Cinderella, 73-66, before losing to Morris/Chokio-Alberta 77-64, Glencoe-Silver Lake 77-69, Paynesville 62-41 and Melrose 65-54.
That's a brutal stretch of really good opponents for any Class AA team, especially one short on practice and long on odd scheduling because of weather.
Montevideo, meanwhile, has been on the cusp of being really good all season. The Thunder Hawks have a modest 13-13 record, but have been on the wrong end of a half-dozen close games that could have gone either way. They're a young team and head coach Derek Webb's excited about their future, especially after surprising third-seeded Winom 83-73 and second-seeded Pipestone 57-55 in the playoffs . They have a winnable game against Redwood Valley, though Montevideo lost to the Cardinals 66-56 to open the season.
Redwood Valley is also on an unlikely run. The Cardinals won 68-61 at fourth-seeded Luverne, then surprised top-seeded Jackson County Central 67-53 to earn the South sub-section championship game with Montevideo.
The 3AA sub-section champions play at 5 p.m. Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State for the 3AA title and a berth in the state tournament.
Here's a look at two other sections involving area teams:
Top-seeded Dawson-Boyd has proven to be no Cinderella. The Blackjacks appear to be the section favorites heading into their 3A-North sub-section title game with Central Minnesota Christian at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State. (Again, note the time. The game time is earlier than originally announced).
The Blackjacks (25-3) have blasted Yellow Medicine East 76-37 and MACCRAY 70-46 so far in the playoffs and closed the regular season with an impressive 72-70 victory over Russell-Tyler-Ruthton for the overall Camden Conference championship in Tyler. R-T-R, the defending Section 3A champion, was undefeated until that game.
A rematch looms, but first Dawson-Boyd must get past a CMCS squad that is playing its best basketball. The Bluejays (18-9) knocked off second-seeded Lakeview 71-47 after beating Minneota 69-46 in the first round. Perhaps a good indication of CMCS' late-season improvement was a 67-65 regular-season-ending loss to Morris/Chokio-Alberta, a top seed a Class higher in 3AA-North.
The Dawson-Boyd/CMCS winner meets the R-T-R/Central Minnesota Christian winner at 8 p.m. Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State for the Section 3A title and a berth in the state tournament.
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa's run to the state Class A tournament last year — with a second-place state finish — was wildly entertaining, and it all began in the Section 6A-South playoffs, where the Jaguars had extremely tough, close victories over Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg and Hancock. BBE's back at it again after beating Ortonville 88-57 in the first round.
The top-seeded Jaguars (23-4) face a young Hancock squad at 1 p.m. Saturday at Minnewaska High School near Glenwood in the Section 6A-South semifinals. The fourth-seeded Owls (13-13) have rebuilt after the 2022 graduation of all-stater Matthew Thompson, who is now playing for Southwest Minnesota State. They still have plenty of weapons and are coming off a 56-55 victory over Parkers Prairie.
BBE is led by senior guard Kaden Pieper, who has more than 2,000 career points, and junior forward Luke Dingmann, a fine all-around athlete. Both were key cogs in last season's state tournament team.
Third-seeded KMS (21-5) has the lineup it wanted heading into the season after health and illness offered the Fighting Saints some adversity and setbacks during the regular season. They'll face No. 2 Border West (23-2), which beat KMS 71-50 on Jan. 21 in Wheaton when the Fighting Saints weren't at full strength.
KMS and Border West play at 2:45 p.m. Saturday at Minnewaska. The Section 6A championship is 7 p.m. Friday at Fergus Falls. Still kicking on the North side of the bracket are No. 1 Henning and No. 4 Hillcrest Lutheran Academy and No. 2 Battle Lake and No. 6 Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal .