Four Wright County Conference boys’ basketball teams are headed to this week’s state tournament, but the Waconia Wildcats are not among the elite.
For the third time in as many seasons, the Wildcats advanced to the section finals, but failed to qualify for the state tournament, this time falling to Holy Family.
In front of a packed gym at Chanhassen High School on March 6, Waconia lost 69-57 to down-the-road rival Holy Family in the Section 6AAA finals.
“Another section championship against a team that was playing their best basketball,” WHS head coach Pat Hayes said, “and Holy Family definitely played as well rounded of a game as they have in a while.”
The Fire defense locked down the middle of the key and the Wildcats’ inside shooters, including senior Ryan Boll, who was limited to just eight points the entire game, forcing Waconia to take mostly perimeter shots.
Senior Michael Vigil stepped up to the plate at the three-point arc, sinking 5 of 9 attempts and leading the Wildcats with 21 total points.
“When we were hitting, it kept us in the game,” Hayes said.
After a tight score throughout most of the first half, the Wildcats trailed by 10 at halftime, headed into the locker room at a 30-20 deficit thanks to some late-in-the-half momentum by the Fire, who capitalized on WHS turnovers for easy lay ups.
“Never easy losing in a section championship game,” Hayes said, “but I was proud of how we responded to their runs, especially in the second half.”
Waconia trailed the entire second half, closing the gap to as narrow as a four-point deficit with just over five minutes to play, but the Fire powered through to the end, reopening their earlier lead and winning by 12 in a 69-57 game.
“We played as hard as we could have in the game,” Hayes said. “If not for their clutch three-point shooting and offensive rebounding, it could have swung the other way.”
Behind Vigil’s 21 points, seniors Jacob Herd (15) and Tommy Gove (11) were the only other Wildcats in double digits. Just five ‘Cats landed on the scoreboard. Boll and Gove each dished out three assists.
The Wildcats were a perfect 8-8 at the free throw line, but struggled elsewhere on the floor, making only 21 of 57 shots from the floor (37 percent).
On defense, the Wildcats pulled down 32 rebounds, led by Boll’s 13 boards, Herd (5), and Gove (5). Junior Oliver Smith used his 6-foot-8 frame to block four Fire shots.
Only six Holy Family players scored during the game, but five of them knocked down double digit points, including seniors Brent Hentges (15), Joe Conroy (13), Colton Stenerson (13), Joe Hanel (12), and junior Justin Dahl (11).
The Fire will join the other qualifying WCC teams, Annandale, New London-Spicer, and Orono, at the boys’ state tournament, which runs this Wednesday through Saturday in Minneapolis. Holy Family kicks off its tournament Wednesday, March 12, against Cloquet.
Waconia has now played in four consecutive Class AAA championships, which Hayes said was rare, considering the MSHSL has moved the Wildcats from Section 6, to Section 2, and now back to Section 6. Look for a full season wrap up of the Wildcats 2013-14 season in the coming weeks.
Contact Melissa Marohl at [email protected]