TARGET CENTER— For the second year in a row, the North Woods Grizzlies came away as runners-up at the state Class A boys basketball tournament. They were defeated 59-55 by Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in …
TARGET CENTER— For the second year in a row, the North Woods Grizzlies came away as runners-up at the state Class A boys basketball tournament. They were defeated 59-55 by Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in a heartbreaking, high-intensity contest that the Grizzlies led most of the way.
Last year, when the Grizzlies lost to Minneapolis North Community, a team that had no business playing in the single A bracket, the Grizzlies went into the title contest with no expectation of winning.
This time, it hurt.
This year, victory was so close the Grizzlies could taste it. With just eight minutes left in the second half, North Woods held an 11-point lead over the Knights and looked poised to make history as the first team in the region to claim a state boys basketball title since Chisholm did it way back in 1991.
But in basketball, momentum can turn on a dime and it turned more than once in a game in which both sides left everything on the court.
It had turned for the Grizzlies midway through the first half, after R-T-R had picked apart the normally impenetrable North Woods defense in the early going. After initially falling behind 8-3 in the opening minutes, the Knights made a 17-2 run that put them up by 12 points midway through the half.
The Grizzlies adjusted, and turned the tables, completing their own 21-3 run to take the lead, 33-30, by the break. A couple big three-point shots by senior Tate Olson and outstanding all-around play by junior point guard Cade Goggleye, seemed to spark the Grizzlies’ rally.
The Grizzlies continued their momentum through the first ten minutes of the second half as they slowly expanded their lead. Using a constantly shifting defensive strategy, North Woods Head Coach Will Kleppe and his team had kept the Knights’ offense under wraps, at least for a time.
At first the shift in momentum was imperceptible. R-T-R turned to a full court press, but it seemed to have little effect on Goggleye, the Grizzlies’ ball-handling wizard, who directed the offense from his point guard position.
But with the minutes ticking down, the Knights picked up a couple field goals back-to-back to trim the Grizzlies’ lead to single digits. The Grizzlies managed to pace the Knights for a time, trading buckets and holding on to their edge. But then, with just under four minutes to go, the Knights connected from beyond the arc, to trim the Grizzlies lead to three, 52-49.
Goggleye, seemingly intent on seeing the Grizzlies to victory, took the in-bound pass and drove the ball straight up the middle for a picture-perfect layup, which should have put the Grizzlies back up by five. But in a close call that very likely decided the game, the referee blew a foul on Goggleye for charging, erasing the two points from the board and leaving the Grizzlies standout seemingly rattled for the first time in the state tournament.
Grizzlies Head Coach Will Kleppe said the distinction between a defensive block and an offensive charge can be a fine line, one that seemed to take center stage in more than one game during this year’s tournament.
In either case, the Knights took advantage, connecting for another three-pointer moments later to tie the game at 52.
Goggleye hustled back down court in the next possession, but with his confidence shaken, he missed wide on a jump shot from just outside the paint.
The Knights took the lead moments later and added two more as time slipped from the clock.
The Grizzlies put two more on the board with 1:02 remaining and Chase Kleppe would add another on a free throw with 40 seconds left, leaving North Woods down by a point, 56-55.
But with time running out and the Knights up, North Woods had no choice but to foul, leaving their hopes on the line at the charity stripe. The Knights offered no favors, connecting on two free throws to put them up by three, with ten seconds remaining. The Grizzlies in-bounded to Parson and sent Goggleye racing to the outside corner, where North Woods’ final hopes rested on a three-point shot. But the pass to Goggleye went awry. He managed to catch it, but in doing so his momentum was carrying him out of bounds. He made a Hail Mary toss over the back of his head as he fell out of bounds, but it bounced harmlessly off the glass into the arms of a waiting Knight, marking the end of the Grizzlies remarkable season.
For the Grizzlies, unaccustomed to losing, the final buzzer left them momentarily shocked. But they showed maturity and composure despite the disappointment in the last-minute loss.
“It was a great experience,” said Kleppe, noting that few high school teams experience the thrill of playing in the Target Center. “We’re going to come away from it very satisfied, just the way it went,” he said about the final game. “It was intense, start to finish, never a one-second let-down for either team.”
Several Grizzlies players were standouts in the game, including Tate Olson, who led North Woods with 15 points, including three treys. Goggleye tallied 13 points, while Brendan Parson added ten. Chase Kleppe scored seven and Trevor Morrison added six points and nine rebounds. Tanner Lokken completed the scoring, with four points.
Olson, Goggleye, and Morrison were named to the All-Tournament team for their outstanding play in all three games as they made their way to the championship round.