For the third time in as many seasons, the No. 1 seeded Waconia boys’ basketball team has landed in the section finals. After defeating No. 8 Dassel-Cokato and No. 4 Willmar last week, the Wildcats will face the No. 2 seeded Marshall Tigers on March 14 in the Section 2AAA final at Minnesota State University – Mankato.
Waconia 56, D-C 22
After drawing the number one seed for sections, Waconia hosted No. 8 Dassel-Cokato on March 6. The Chargers came into the contest without a single win this season, and exited the game the same, after Waconia easily won 56-22.
A strong start and a large 35-10 halftime lead allowed the Wildcats to utilize their entire bench, according to WHS head coach Pat Hayes.
“We started out strong and were able to build a big lead in the first half, which allowed us to use our bench more throughout the game,” he said. “We defended extremely well all game and were able to get good looks on the inside.”
After their 25-point leading margin at halftime, the Wildcats held off the Chargers 21-12 in the second half for the 56-22 victory. Scoring was evenly distributed all down the bench, led by junior Ryan Boll with 11 points. The Wildcats shot 55 percent from the floor (23-42) and were 7-11 at the free throw line.
Also scoring for Waconia was senior Alex Chandler (7), junior Jacob Herd (7), senior Josh Lenz (6), senior Wylie Ferron (6), senior Matt Rachey (5), sophomore Avery Talton (4), junior Ryan Schuman (4), junior Alex Dupont (3), junior Tim Gray (2), and senior Austin Fuller (1). Rachey (5) and Boll (4) led in assists.
Waconia grabbed 30 rebounds on the night, led by Chandler (8), Rachey (5), and Lenz (4). Talton snagged three of the team’s eight steals. Lenz, Boll, Dupont, Gray, and junior David Hughes also had steals. The Wildcats tallied five blocked shots from Fuller (2), Ferron (1), Chandler (1), and Talton (1).
Waconia 67, Willmar 42
After defeating Dassel-Cokato, the Wildcats advanced to the section semifinals to take on No. 4 Willmar March 9.
Hayes said another strong defensive effort by the ‘Cats limited Willmar’s shots.
“We were able to build the lead with good passes early and maintained that throughout the game,” he said.
Leading 32-15 at halftime, the Wildcats outscored the Cardinals 35-27 in the second half to claim the win.
Waconia was 24-53 from the floor (45 percent), lower than is typical for the team, but nonetheless effective. The Wildcats were also 16-22 (73 percent) at the charity stripe.
Boll (11), Chandler (11), Fuller (11), and Herd (10) all scoring in double digits to lead the Wildcat attack. Other scorers included Rachey (9), Lenz (8), Ferron (4), Talton (2), and senior Brian Porter (1). Lenz (6) and Rachey (5) again led in assists.
Chandler (9), Lenz (6), and Ferron (6) led the team in rebounding, followed by Herd (4), Talton (4), Rachey (3), Fuller (3), Boll (3), Porter (1), and Schuman (1). The Wildcats totaled 41 boards.
Boll (2) and Herd (2) combined for four of the team’s eight steals with Ferron, Chandler, Boll, and Talton grabbing the others. Waconia had five blocked shots from Talton (2), Rachey, Ferron, and Chandler.
The No. 7 (3A) Wildcats are set to face No. 3 (3A) Marshall in tonight’s Section 2AAA final. The two teams last met in last year’s semifinals, with Waconia defeating Marshall 81-59.
But the Tigers have had a stellar 26-2 season, losing only to Fairmont and Willmar this year. Marshall won the Southwest Conference with a perfect 12-0 record this season, and is on a 15-game winning streak.
To land in the section finals, the Tigers defeated No. 7 New Ulm 71-34 (March 5) and No. 3 Mankato West 66-61 (March 9).
The Wildcats are 23-5 this season, after winning their fifth consecutive Wright County Conference title. They have won six consecutive games, including last week’s two playoff victories.
Hayes said Waconia will have to be very careful ball handlers on the offensive end and work together on defense to defeat Marshall.
“We will need to take care of the ball better and continue to play team defense this Thursday if we want to be competitive against Marshall,” he said.
Contact Melissa Marohl at firstname.lastname@example.org