It was an exciting week for the Moose Lake Willow River Rebels boys’ basketball team. They defeated Duluth Marshall and Pequot Lakes to earn a spot in the Minnesota State Basketball Tournament. There are eight teams left: In the northern section-Minneapolis North (14-1) is seeded number one, Annandale (18-1) second, Fergus Falls (15-7) third and Moose Lake Willow River (18-3) fourth. In the southern section-Waseca (20-1) is number one, Caledonia (21-1) is second, St. Croix Prep Academy (20-1) is third, and Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta (19-2). MLWR played Minneapolis North on Wednesday, March 31 at 1:00 in Osseo (after this paper’s deadline). The only other time MLWR has won the sections to go to state was in 2005. The winner of the game Wednesday will play the winner of Caledonia and St. Croix Prep Academy on April 7 at the Target Center at 2 p.m.
Two of Rebels losses this season were to Duluth Marshall 69-70 and Pequot Lakes 84-87 in overtime. These are the two teams that they had to defeat this week to go to state and they did it.
On Tuesday, March 23 the Rebels were at Duluth Marshall again and shot the lights out. Mason Olson put in 32 points and Logan Orvedahl added 16. At the half, the Rebels led 44-28. The Marshall Hilltoppers were down by 17, but then went on a 12-0 run to close the gap to 53-48 with 12 minutes left in the game.
The Rebels have been shooting almost 50 percent from the three-point mark. Rebels’ Coach Wes Cummins said, “It’s such a momentum changer when you hit one. It’s a nice luxury to have.” Orvedahl had four in this game, Phillip Sheetz three, Olson and Carter Johnson each had two. They made 12 of their 13 free throw shots, while Marshall was 2 for 4 from the charity stripe.
Hilltopper’s coach, Tom Mitchell stated that the Rebels shot the lights out and played incredibly hard for all 36 minutes. It was hard to match.
Scoring for the Rebels were Olson 32, Orvedahl 16, Johnson, Sheetz 9, Brady Watrin 7, Landin Kurhajetz 6, and Sam Dewey 4.
For Marshall, the Timm brothers were the leaders. Jasper Timm had 26 and Oscar finished with 18. Mason Boos 15, Brooks Johnson 10, Ben Bergeron and Alex Olson each had 2. Jasper Timm sunk five threes.
On Thursday, March 25 MLWR traveled back up to Pequot Lake High School. When Cummins took over the head coaching job at MLWR, these players were in sixth and seventh grade. There was talk about cutting nets down after winning. The kids put in the time year-round working on their game, never missing summer practices for five years. One of the coaches put a step-ladder and scissors on the bus before the team left Moose Lake. The kids got to cut down the nets. The Rebels came home with an upset victory 57-51 over top-seeded Pequot Lakes Patriots and the Section 7AA championship. The award ceremony was banned by the state high school league because of COVID restrictions.
The coach tells all the players to just keep shooting and they have complete freedom to shoot whenever they want to and that makes the Rebels tough to beat because any given player can contribute to the win.
In this game, Sam Dewey made five out of the six threes he shot for 83% efficiency and his shots came at crucial times in the game. At the start of the second half, the Rebels led 25-18, but the Patriots quickly made a run and were in the lead 26-25. Patriot Wufflestad hit two threes and Alex Morgan put one in for and 8-0 run. Sheetz went in and put a stop to that with his own three. The score was 33-33 with 12:53 minutes left on the clock, when Dewey made his first second half shot from the arc and the Rebels took the lead for good.
With 7:52 to go until the buzzer, the Rebels led 45-44 and Dewey hit back-to-back threes. The Patriots took a time-out with 3:33 remaining and the Rebels were leading 54-44. With 1:44 left the Patriots were closing the gap, trailing by five 54-49 and the Rebels hadn’t scored. The Patriots had to foul to get control of the ball away from the Rebels. The last three Rebel baskets were free throws, two by Olson and Johnson’s one to end the game.
The Rebels know that they can score because they were state leaders all season in points scored in a game averaging 85.1 points per game. Great defense is what wins games and the Rebels were right on for all 36 minutes of this game.
The Rebels enjoy making threes. In a regular season game earlier this year, they hit 20 of the them. In this game they made 11. Dewey led with 5, Sheetz and Olson each had 3. Olson led in scoring with 19, Dewey followed with 15, Sheetz 11, Brady Watrin 5, Landin Kurhajetz 2 and Johnson 1.
For the Patriots, Simon Wufflestad led with 15, Morgan 12, Bode Magnus 9, Sam Rysavy 7, Eli Laposky 6 and Nic Kotaska 2.