HIBBING— Defense rules. That’s a point that the North Woods Grizzlies made again last Saturday as they shut down Ely’s powerful offense to claim the Section 7A boys basketball title in a rout …
HIBBING— Defense rules. That’s a point that the North Woods Grizzlies made again last Saturday as they shut down Ely’s powerful offense to claim the Section 7A boys basketball title in a rout before a packed house at the Hibbing Arena.
Ely knew coming in that the stars would need to align to upset the top-ranked Grizzlies. But the Wolves had shown the ability to score all season long. Coming off a convincing 73-51 win over Wrenshall in the semi-finals, Ely was clearly peaking at the right time.
And then came the Grizzlies, who put on an astonishing defensive display, holding Ely’s offense to just 13 points in the first half en route to a 70-38 final. It was Ely’s poorest offensive performance of the season by a substantial margin.
“It was a rough ending to a really good season,” said Ely Head Coach Tom McDonald. “We ran about everything in our play book and they just smothered it all. That just shows how good they are.”
Grizzlies Head Coach Will Kleppe said containing Ely’s best performers— namely junior Pat Vanderbeek and senior Carter Gaulke— was key to the game. He tasked junior point guard Cade Goggleye with containing the ever-dangerous Vanderbeek, and senior guard Brendan Parson with stopping Gaulke.
“They’ve got some really skilled players,” noted Kleppe. “Gaulke was able to take it to the basket at will against Wrenshall,” he said.
But Ely just couldn’t break through the Grizzlies’ perimeter and struggled to connect from three-point range. Vanderbeek, as usual, had the most success from beyond the arc, connecting for 14 points in the game. Dylan Fenske added ten, but McDonald said there were few other stats worth mentioning. Gaulke had six assists but was otherwise shut down from start-to-finish.
Kleppe said he wasn’t surprised by the final result, but he was pleasantly surprised at the intensity of his team’s defensive play.
The Grizzlies also dominated the boards, with 23 rebounds. “We managed just two offensive rebounds,” noted McDonald. “We just didn’t get many second chances.” The Grizzlies tallied six offensive rebounds but didn’t need as many second chances as the Timberwolves. “They shot the lights out,” said McDonald.
In fact, Ely’s defense had an excellent night, limiting the Grizzlies to 70 points, their fifth lowest point total of the season.
Brendan Parson came up big for the Grizzlies, with 19 points, including five three-pointers.
Trevor Morrison was particularly hot in the early going, helping the Grizzlies build their commanding early lead. He scored 16 points on the night, while Cade Goggleye tallied 11. Seniors Isaiah Squires and Tanner Lokken added seven points apiece, and Tate Olson tallied five. Chase Kleppe dominated the boards, with nine rebounds.
Saturday’s section final marks the end of Ely’s season. McDonald notes that his team will lose two key players to graduation this year, Gaulke and Blaise Lah, the team’s rebound leader. “It’s going to take a lot of work,” he said. “They’ll be tough to replace.”
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were preparing for their Thursday match-up against Heritage Christian Academy at Williams Arena, in the opening round of the state tournament. Heritage enters the tournament unseeded after finishing the season at 13-17, so they’re likely to face a challenge to upset the Grizzlies, who enter the tournament as the second seed.
Assuming an opening round victory, the Grizzlies would take on the winner of the game between Rushford-Peterson and Cass Lake-Bena at 2 p.m. on Friday at Target Center. The state Class A championship match is set for Saturday, at 11 a.m., at Target Center.
The Grizzlies will be looking to improve on their second-place finish in last year’s state tournament, when they lost to Minneapolis North Community in the title match. The Minneapolis school is no longer competing in Class A.