FIELD TWP- The North Woods Grizzlies warmed up for sectional tournament action this week by closing out the regular season with a pair of wins over South Ridge and Mt. Iron-Buhl.The Grizzlies played …
FIELD TWP- The North Woods Grizzlies warmed up for sectional tournament action this week by closing out the regular season with a pair of wins over South Ridge and Mt. Iron-Buhl.
The Grizzlies played host to South Ridge on Friday in the annual battle for “The Claw,” a traveling trophy awarded to the winner that was created by a South Ridge shop class when both schools were new. Coming in with a 12-5 record that included a recent overtime road win at Cherry, the Panthers had high hopes for ending four years of North Woods dominance and reclaiming the trophy.
Instead, what the Panthers got was a nightmare courtesy of one of the Grizzlies’ best defensive performances of the season as North Woods kept a firm grip on “The Claw” with a 79-36 beatdown of their district rivals.
Five three-balls from four North Woods players helped the Grizzlies grab a 21-11 lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the half, and then came a haymaker punch in the form of a 20-2 run that was largely fueled by ferocious defense. Alex Hartway’s quick hands set the stage with a steal and fast break bucket. T.J. Chiabotti got into the thievery when he sneaked behind an unsuspecting South Ridge guard to swipe the ball and race for another score. The Grizzlies snagged five steals in the run and collected treys from all three Chiabottis – T.J., Jared, and Brenden – and held an insurmountable 41-13 lead at the half.
Although the Grizzlies had a height disadvantage, they won the rebounding battle 33-27, grabbing 16 caroms on the offensive end. North Woods forced 25 turnovers, collecting an astounding 21 steals.
“We came out with a high level of energy and set the pace early,” Head Coach Will Kleppe said. “It all started with our defensive intensity which led to a number of transition baskets. I thought Alex Hartway played some of the best ‘on ball’ defense I’ve seen from our team this year. We moved the ball well on offense and the result was a better shooting percentage. It was nice to see the three-pointers falling.”
T.J. Chiabotti tallied 21 points in the win, and Brenden Chiabotti knocked down 15.
The Grizzlies had little time for rest as they were back on the court on Saturday at Mt. Iron-Buhl.
North Woods fans surely had unsettling images of the Grizzlies’ loss to Ely in their heads in the second half as they watched the Rangers erase a 53-38 North Woods advantage to take a 64-63 lead with 3:37 remaining. The Rangers exploited double-teaming pressure from the Grizzlies by finding open players to knock down four treys in the 26-10 run.
That lead lasted all of 12 seconds, as Darius Goggleye scored, was fouled, and converted the free throw, then scored again on the next possession on a dish from a driving T.J. Chiabotti. Holding the ball outside to milk the clock, Chiabotti again drove the lane and found Shane Morrison for a bucket that put the Grizzlies firmly in control at 70-64, leading to a 72-66 win.
“We were high energy in the first half, but we played a fast-paced game the night before so in the second half we slowed down a bit,” Kleppe said. “Our guys showed some maturity when MIB momentarily took the lead. We continued to attack the basket and got some good high/low baskets from Darius and Sean. Defensive buy-in has been improving. Guys know that if they are not contributing on defense, I can’t keep them on the floor regardless of their offensive potential. That in itself has been motivation.”
North Woods hit 46 percent of their shots overall and 36 percent from three-point range.
T.J. Chiabotti scored 26 points on 10-of-21 shooting, including five treys. Darius Goggleye dropped in 14, Sean Morrison had 11, and Jared Chiabotti scored 10.
The Grizzlies finished the regular season at 12-5 and are seeded third in the Section 7A tournament. They were scheduled to kick off the tourney with a home game against 14th-seed Hill City on Thursday. A win would have the Grizzlies playing at home again on Saturday against the winner of the Ely-Lakeview Christian game.
While attendance is limited to only those on a preapproved list, the Grizzlies got some good news on Tuesday from ISD 2142 Superintendent Reggie Engebritson, who gave the go-ahead to increase the number of spectators allowed per player from two to three.
“Adding a few for the tournament will be nice, although gym size and seating availability will still keep fan numbers down,” Kleppe said. “It is still nice to be playing and to start a run in the section tournament.”
That run got off to a good start on Thursday when the Grizzlies rolled over Hill City 96-33. They will host Ely on Saturday. The Timberwolves won the regular season contest between the two 63-60.