FIELD TWP- The biggest obstacles facing the North Woods Grizzlies as they opened sectional tournament play at home Wednesday against Cook County could well be inside their own heads: maintaining a …
FIELD TWP- The biggest obstacles facing the North Woods Grizzlies as they opened sectional tournament play at home Wednesday against Cook County could well be inside their own heads: maintaining a legacy and fighting complacency.
With three consecutive trips to the state Class A final, there’s little doubt the current Grizzlies squad is intent on not only equaling that feat but exceeding it by bringing home a state championship.
But first they have to get through the sectional tournament. Cook County, at a paltry 6-14, came into Wednesday’s game with nothing to lose, driven to play knowing the game could well be their last.
If the Grizzlies survived that test, awaiting them Saturday in Hibbing will be a regular season foe, either South Ridge, who they crushed by 37, or Carlton, who they beat by 23. Neither will likely be so easily overcome in a rematch, particularly if the Grizzlies err on the side of overconfidence from their prior victories.
Possible complacency will cease to be an issue if the Grizzlies win their first two sectional games. Third-seed Ely, a team the Grizzlies beat by 11 at home in December, is a likely opponent, and North Woods is experienced enough to know playing on a neutral court can be a perilous equalizer.
If the Grizzlies reach the sectional final, they’re almost certainly going to have to overcome an opponent who has already beaten them. Top-seed Nashwauk-Keewatin beat them at the outset of the season in an overtime thriller.
The sour taste of a loss to fourth-seeded Deer River is still fresh in the Grizzlies’ mouths, as the Warriors neutralized everything that has powered North Woods to recent victories to claim an 86-72 triumph last Friday on the Grizzlies home court.
The Grizzlies have overwhelmed opponents with fast breaks, by creating points off turnovers, and forcing them into subpar shooting performances. However, the Warriors matched them in steals and points off of turnovers, outscored them 27-16 in transition points, and hit a sizzling 48 percent from the field, including 64 percent from two-point range. Five Warriors scored in double figures.
North Woods led by two at the half, 39-37, and with 10 minutes remaining went up 54-52 on a Brenden Chiabotti three-pointer, the team’s first trey in more than three halves of play.
But with the Grizzlies’ Trevor Morrison nursing a sore shoulder after two hard falls, the Warriors quickly struck back with a 7-0 run for a 59-54 lead. The Grizzlies got as close as 64-61 on a bucket by Levi Byram before the Warriors pulled ahead by 10 and used a spread offense in the last five minutes to ice the win.
“We had no fouls to give which made it really tough there,” said North Woods Head Coach Will Kleppe. “We did well in stretches but not well enough to win the game. We had a few too many obstacles to overcome in the second half.”
One of those obstacles was being outbattled for rebounds.
“A big part of our strategy coming into this game was that we needed five guys crashing the boards,” Kleppe said. “We took some shots where we had only one or two rebounding. That’s going to hurt you.”
Kleppe was glad to see Brenden, TJ, and Jared Chiabotti end the team’s extended drought from three-point range.
“It was good to hit a few,” he said. “It kept the game interesting where we had a couple of chances to close on them, but they stayed hot.”
TJ Chiabotti led all scorers with 26 points, while Darius Goggleye notched 16 and Morrison hit for 14 in just 24 minutes of action.
While he could not comment on the nature of Morrison’s injury, Kleppe was optimistic about his status for the sectional tournament.
“We’re hoping it’s nothing serious,” he said. “We’ll give him the weekend to rest up and evaluate him.”
The loss didn’t affect the Grizzlies’ seeding for sectional play as they were slotted second behind Nashwauk-Keewatin and received a first-round bye. North Woods was scheduled for a Wednesday home game against Cook County. A win would advance the Grizzlies to a 4 p.m. tilt Saturday at Hibbing Memorial Arena.