HIBBING- Every team in postseason competition plays knowing its next game could be its last.When North Woods clawed back from a 13-point deficit to beat Ely, 72-57, in a Class 7A sectional semifinal …
HIBBING- Every team in postseason competition plays knowing its next game could be its last.
When North Woods clawed back from a 13-point deficit to beat Ely, 72-57, in a Class 7A sectional semifinal game March 11, the Timberwolves knew their season was over.
What the exuberant Grizzlies couldn’t know that night was that they had come to the end of the line, too. The next day the Minnesota State High School League unceremoniously ended the Grizzlies’ quest for a fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament when it canceled all sectional finals and the state tournament.
Both teams ended the season on sour notes, but neither had to apologize for a drama-filled semifinal skirmish that was in doubt until the game’s final minutes.
After a tentative start by both teams, Ely was the first to catch fire. Leading 7-6 after three minutes of play, the Timberwolves stunned the Grizzlies with a 15-3 run. Will Davies and Emmett Faltesek sank three-pointers and Dylan Fenske scored five points in three consecutive trips down the floor to stake Ely to a commanding 22-9 lead with 11 minutes left in the half.
“They came to play and I think we didn’t have the intensity to match them in the first eight minutes,” North Woods Head Coach Will Kleppe said.
After being doubled up 26-13, the Grizzlies regrouped for a charge kicked off by a Trevor Morrison bucket at the 9:30 mark. Another bucket by Morrison, a trey by Brenden Chiabotti, and fast break scores by TJ Chiabotti and Jared Chiabotti, and North Woods was suddenly back to within two, 26-24.
However, Ely refused to relinquish the lead, once again building a nine-point margin, 43-34, on a Joey Bianco shot with 1:31 left. The Timberwolves had a chance to go up by double-digits before the half, but the Grizzlies forced a turnover that Darius Goggleye turned into a fast break layup with nine seconds left. The teams headed into the break with Ely leading 43-36.
Both teams were strong on the offensive end of the floor, with Ely hitting 51 percent of its shots and North Woods connecting on 47 percent of its attempts.
The teams’ shooting fortunes would diverge dramatically in the second half, ultimately spelling doom for the Timberwolves.
North Woods quickly cut Ely’s lead to two, 43-41, but another three-pointer by Faltesek gave the Timberwolves a 46-41 cushion. When Davies hit a second consecutive trey at the 11:31 mark, Ely was back up by eight, 55-47.
And then the Timberwolves’ shooters went colder than a subzero Minnesota night, going scoreless for an agonizing seven minutes.
While defensive adjustments at halftime by the Grizzlies were partially responsible, the Timberwolves were still getting plenty of good looks at the basket. Absolutely nothing was falling.
Wide open drives to the basket ended with the ball clanging off the underside of the rim. Three-pointers went halfway down and popped back out. Name a hard-luck way to miss a hoop, and you’ll probably find it among Ely’s 25 missed shots in the second half. The Timberwolves shot just 21 percent in the period.
Making it even worse for the ice-cold Timberwolves, the Grizzlies were red-hot. North Woods had success working the ball into the paint for high-percentage shots and scoring on fast breaks as they finally captured a 56-55 lead on a nifty spin move and shot off the glass by Goggleye with just over seven minutes remaining. The Grizzlies shot a torrid 65 percent from the field in the second half.
When Faltesek finally ended the scoring drought with a basket at the 4:29 mark, the Timberwolves were still within striking distance, trailing 62-57.
Unfortunately for Ely, it proved to be their final basket of the season. The Timberwolves closed out the game with a 10-0 run for the 15-point win, completing a stunning 28-point turnaround.
“Our boys did a good job of battling back in the second half,” Kleppe said. “We had things we had to improve and I thought in the second half the defense and the rebounding really came around. Credit to our guys, they found a way to do it. I guess that’s kind of been our motto -- figure out how to get the job done.”
Grizzlies upperclassmen Goggleye and Morrison were stellar in the paint, connecting on 16 of 22 shots. Goggleye topped the scoring chart with 20, followed by Morrison and TJ Chiabotti with 16 each. Jared Chiabotti tallied 11.
The Timberwolves also had four players with double-digit contributions. Eric Omerza and Faltesek popped in 12 apiece, while Davies and Fenske each scored 11.
The teams finished the season with identical records of 23-6.