John's Journal
In A New Baseball Season, The Miracle Of Henry Sibley Lives On4/1/2017
It’s a new season of high school baseball in Minnesota but you have to forgive people who want to talk about what the Henry Sibley Warriors accomplished last season. It’s a remarkable, one-in-a-million saga that will be remembered for a long, long time. Because how many teams in any sport anywhere go from a record of 4-14 to a state championship?

The Warriors – whose school is in Mendota Heights -- began the 2016 season with five losses before stringing together four consecutive wins. But that was followed by nine defeats in a row, giving them a record of 4-14. They closed the regular season with two wins and took a 6-14 mark into the double-elimination Section 3 playoffs.

They opened the postseason by beating St. Paul Highland Park 9-3 and losing to St. Thomas Academy 1-0. One more loss in the section tournament would have ended their season, but the Warriors won four games to claim the section title, then went to state and defeated Northfield, Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Mahtomedi to become Class 3A state champs.

Looking back from the doorstep of the 2017 season, returning members of the team can only shake their heads at the memories.

“We had our banquet before the section tournament started,” said current senior catcher Matt Richards. “Coach gave a little talk and said, ‘We’re not done yet. We still have to go out and finish the section tournament and try to make the most of it.’ The timing of that was funny because we were 4-14 and the regular season was done and nobody had any idea what was going to happen next.”

It was remarkable. After the state championship game at Target Field, Henry Sibley coach Greg Fehrman tried to explain, saying, “I can’t. I really can’t. I wish I could but I can’t. It’s one of those things that turned out the way it did.”

Henry Sibley’s only previous baseball state championship came in 1994; the team also went to state in 2005. It’s pretty easy to figure out the team’s goal this spring: Get back to state, but maybe without so much drama and high-wire intrigue.

“I’m one of those people that believes every time you start a new year, ultimately your goal is to win a state title,” said Fehrman, who is beginning his 27th year as the Warriors head coach. “You’re always trying to make sure you play the game as clean as you can play it. Make sure you throw the ball across the plate, get the outs you’re supposed to get and battle as best you can.”

Eight of last year’s 15 losses were by one run, so the Warriors weren’t as far behind the pack as their record may have made it look.

“It looks one way on the outside looking in, and on the inside looking out you get another look at it,” said Fehrman (pictured). “From my perspective, it’s one of those deals where we weren’t that bad. We lost a lot of games by one run. We had some concerns as far as injuries and a couple other issues. In the end, we started cleaning up our game a little bit. Once you start playing good it’s kind of contagious. We had a good understanding of how we wanted to go about the plan.”

The hope this season is that the Warriors’ contagious spirit continues.

“I think last year we just took it one day at a time,” said senior infielder and pitcher Joe Ihrke. “Earlier in the season we were probably trying to do too many big things. When we were unsuccessful at that we kind of took a step back and took it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one pitch at a time. I’m excited for this year. I think we have a chance to be successful this year.

“After the first day of practice (this season), coach Fehrman took us aside and said we made our hay last year but it’s a new year so that’s over with.”

There are six returning starters this year, but other than Richards behind the plate there are players who may be plugged in at several positions.

“We bring back a little pitching, catching, we’ve got to find a shortstop,” Fehrman said. “These kids nowadays, they love to play the game and it’s fun to be with them.”

One of the lessons of last season is that you never know what might happen when you stick together and play the game one pitch, one out at a time.

“Last year was unbelievable, crazy,” said senior outfielder Sam Gantman. “But it’s in the past. It’s a new team this year, a lot of young guys.”

There should be little reason for overconfidence, Fehrman said.

“You’ve always got to guard against kids hanging on to yesterday,” he said. “We talk about it. We make sure that for the kids who had a role in playing the game last year, they have to understand they need to extend themselves from that point. And for the kids filling in, they have to be contributing.”

If all goes well this spring, the Warriors seniors will finish their high school career with an overall winning record. They’re not there yet.

“We’re two games under .500, ” Irhke said, smiling. “We still have a losing record in our high school career but we’re state champs.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 560
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,443
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Long Days, Hard Work, Another State Title 3/25/2017
After Minneapolis North won its second consecutive Class 1A boys basketball state championship on Saturday, coach Larry McKenzie talked about the condition of the school several years ago as well as the basketball program when he was hired four years ago.

Back in 2010, district administrators proposed closing North due to declining enrollment and other factors. Community members fought to keep the school alive and the efforts were successful.

Before McKenzie took over as coach, the Polars were struggling much as their school had struggled. The team was 3-22 in the 2011-12 season and 6-15 in 2012-13. McKenzie’s first season in 2013-14 resulted in a 19-11 record and the Polars were on track.

The changes extended beyond the basketball court. There were 6 a.m. practices and mandatory study halls on a regular basis.

“Some days these guys would be at school from 6 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock at night,” McKenzie said after the Polars defeated North Woods 96-49 at Target Center.

The Polars finished this season with a record of 32-2, losing to Class 4A teams Apple Valley and Hopkins. North defeated Minnehaha Academy, which beat Crosby-Ironton in Saturday’s Class 2A title game. Apple Valley won the 4A state title later Saturday.

North, whose enrollment has risen from 139 in 2011-12 to 199 this year, will move up to Class 2A beginning next season.

“This team will forever ever be so special for me,” McKenzie said. “I’ve had lots more talented individuals but I don’t think I’ve had a better team. … these are the guys who believed in me four years ago when I took the job.”

The North Woods Grizzlies had a dream season, going 31-2 and playing at Williams Arena and Target Center at state. The word “amazing” was repeated after Saturday’s game.

“It’s been amazing,” said sophomore Cade Goggleye. “We weren’t even supposed to be here.”

Coach Will Kleppe said, “It’s been amazing for our community, our school and of course for our program.”

George Bibeau, a 6-foot-4 center, was the only senior on the North Woods team so we may see more of the Grizzlies in the future.

Media Service Awards

Two members of the media who have been longtime supporters of high school activities were honored at halftime of the 3A championship game with the MSHSL Media Service Award. Congratulations to longtime Fergus Falls radio personality Craig Olson and Brainerd Dispatch sports editor Mike Bialka (pictured).

The young and the experienced

Minnehaha Academy won the Class 2A state title with a 47-36 win over Crosby-Ironton. It was a contrast in ages, with Minnehaha led in scoring by two ninth-graders and the Rangers led by two seniors.

Jalen Suggs scored 19 points and Terry Lockett had 12 for the Redhawks. Noah Gindorff (19) and Jack Silgen (10) led Crosby-Ironton.

Rangers coach Dave Galovich was asked about facing Suggs, who at 6-foot-3 is a highly recruited quarterback as well as basketball player.

“He’s very talented,” Galovich said. “When you play them the first time you don’t realize how quick he is and the length he has. The adjustment to his game just doesn’t happen in a couple possessions. He can do some things that no one else we have played this year can do. Very good player, outstanding.”

Galovich said he and his team had no regrets after finishing second.

“From the beginning I said, ‘Put forth the effort, we’ll take the results.’ And they did not disappoint. I thought their effort tonight was outstanding. We came up a little bit short. When that happens, sometimes you’ve got to look at your opponent and tip your hat to them.”

Another milestone for DeLaSalle

DeLaSalle won its sixth consecutive Class 3A state title with a 72-44 victory over Austin. Last year the Islanders became the first team to win five championships in a row, and Saturday’s win made them the first to win six straight.

Apple Valley wins 4A title

In a rematch from the 2015 championship game, Apple Valley held off Champlin Park 60-54 to win the big-school title. Two years ago, Apple Valley defeated the Rebels 64-61 in the title game. That was Champlin Park’s only defeat of that season, as was Saturday’s loss.

Apple Valley junior guard Tre Jones finished the season in style, with 24 points, 18 rebounds and five assists. Apple Valley had a 45-25 edge in rebounds.

The total attendance for Saturday’s Class 3A/4A session was 13,893.

Wells-Fargo All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A/
Ethan Brouwer, Central Minnesota Christian; Rob McClain Jr., Red Lake; Isaac Fink, Springfield; Jacob McNamara, Goodhue; Cade Goggleye, Tate Olson, North Woods; Tayler Johnson, Isaac Johnson, JaQuan Sanders-Smith, ODell Wilson IV, Minneapolis North.

Class 2A/ Marc Kjos, Lake City; Oakley Baker, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva; Michael Schaefer, St. Cloud Cathedral; Jarod Wilken, Annandale; Trey Jacobs, Noah Gindorff, Jack Silgen, Crosby-Ironton; Jalen Suggs, JaVonni Bickham, Terry Lockett, Minnehaha Academy.

Class 3A/ Sam Vascellaro, St. Thomas Academy; Matthew Monke, Fergus Falls; Wendell Matthews, Columbia Heights; Mitchell Sueker, Marshall; Both Gach, Oman Oman, Duoth Gach, Austin; Tyrell Terry, Gabe Kalscheur, Goanar Mar, DeLaSalle.

Class 4A/ Nathan Reuvers, Lakeville North; Dan Oturu, Cretin-Derham Hall; Brad Davison, Maple Grove; Gavin Baumgartner, Wayzata; Tre Jones, Mohamed Kone, Luke Martens, Apple Valley; McKinley Wright IV, Theo John, Marcus Hill, Champlin Park.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 559
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,407
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
It’s No Miracle: North Woods Wins Again3/24/2017
Don’t call the boys basketball team from North Woods a Cinderalla outfit. Don’t call them the miracle five. Call them the Grizzlies because they know how to play some grizzly-style basketball down to the wire.

If you own a television and happened to watch ESPN this week, you saw what happened at the end of the Grizzlies’ 54-51 quarterfinal victory Thursday over Central Minnesota Christian at Williams Arena. North Woods sophomore Cade Goggleye heaved a half-court shot at the buzzer to win the game.

The drama wasn’t quite as intense during Friday’s quarterfinals at Target Center. Goggleye again scored the winning points, this time on two free throws with four seconds left as the unseeded Grizzlies (31-1) beat second-seeded Goodhue 51-49.

Gabe, a man of few words, said after the game, “I was thinking either we go to the state championship or we go to the third-place game.”

The Grizzlies, first-timers at the state tournament, found themselves in a whirlwind of attention following Thursday’s game. That made it even more improbable that they would knock off once-beaten Goodhue, which was the state runner-up last year and seeded second this year. But momentum matters.

“I think any time you have a team that’s going to their first state tournament and only has one loss on the year, it’s no slouch,” said Goodhue coach Matt Halverson. “You get a buzzer beater and your team’s feeling pretty good about themselves. This whole basketball deal is a lot about momentum and they had momentum coming into the game, they had momentum during the game.”

North Woods coach Will Kleppe said, “There were certainly a lot of emotions that went with yesterday’s game and a lot of attention afterwards. Not too often do you turn on basically any TV station and see that play replayed again and again. The boys handled it really well.

“We went back to the hotel and got something to eat and there was talk of everything but basketball. Then we started getting phone messages about being on ESPN. It was pretty exciting. We went to shoot around this morning to prepare for today’s game and there was very little talk about it. They were very focused.”

A big cheer for Alex

Memories are made at state tournaments, and Springfield fans will long smile about something that happened late in the Tigers’ 100-56 loss to Minneapolis North in the Class 1A semifinals.

The game was out of hand, it was being played under running time and the benches had been emptied. The score was 98-53 with less than two minutes to go when Springfield senior Alex Quesenberry found himself behind the three-point line with the ball in his hands. Alex had seen action in 14 of the Tigers’ 29 games prior to the state tournament. He had scored 19 points on the year, averaging 1.36 points per game. And he fired away.

The ball went through the hoop and the crowd went wild. The Springfield fans whooped and hollered and the players and coaches on the bench stood, applauded and smiled.

Championship experience

Minneapolis North, attempting to repeat as 1A state champ, will meet North Woods on Saturday. North coach Larry McKenzie is no stranger to championship games. He coached Minneapolis Patrick Henry to Class 3A titles four consecutive years from 2000 to 2003.

Best message of the tournament

Crosby-Ironton met St. Cloud Cathedral in the Class 2A semifinals Friday evening. Several hours before tipoff, this message was sent via the C-I Ranger Activities Twitter account:

“A reminder that we are representing our school and community tonight with the eyes of Minnesota watching. Emotions tend to run high but that is no excuse for profanity, taunting, or badgering of officials. Be loud, cheer with pride, and be supportive of our team in a positive manner. Let’s show everyone how much we love our boys, our school, and our community! Go C-I Go!”

A note of gratitude

I was invited to a meeting in St. Paul on Friday morning, and it was a group I highly respect: the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association. Its membership includes coaches from all MSHSL sports and it does a terrific job of representing athletes, coaches and our schools.

Unbeknownst to me, there was a surprise afoot: I was made an honorary lifetime member of the MSHSCA (with the laminated membership card to prove it). My heroes have always been teachers and coaches, and to receive this honor is one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Thank you MSHSCA.

Friday’s Games at Target Center

Class 1A semifinals

Minneapolis North 100, Springfield 56
North Woods 51, Goodhue 49

Class 2A semifinals
Minnehaha Academy 76, Annandale 44
Crosby-Ironton 53, St. Cloud Cathedral 42

Saturday’s state championship games

Class 1A

11 a.m./ Minneapolis North (31-2) vs. North Woods (31-1)

Class 2A

1 p.m./ Minnehaha Academy (25-5) vs. Crosby-Ironton (30-2)

Class 3A

5 p.m./ DeLaSalle (26-3) vs. Austin (29-1)

Class 4A

8 p.m./ Champlin Park (31-0) vs. Apple Valley (29-1)

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 559
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,357
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Coaches, Longtime Friends Will Meet For A State Title 3/23/2017
When the boys basketball teams from DeLaSalle and Austin meet at Target Center for the Class 3A state championship Saturday night, it will mark the latest chapter in a coaching relationship that goes back decades.

The coaches – Austin’s Kris Fadness and DeLaSalle’s Dave Thorson – have faced off against each other four times, with each winning twice. So Saturday’s game will give one of them a 3-2 edge in their coaching rivalry. But both of them would argue against using the term “rivals.” They are close friends.

“Dave and I go way back,” Fadness said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Dave.”

“Kris is as good a high school coach as there is in the state,” Thorson said. “He’s a great teacher of the game. There’s a huge level of respect and I think the world of him.”

Their two most recent matchups came in the 2013 and 2014 3A state championship games, both won by DeLaSalle. Fadness’ first victory against Thorson’s Islanders came in 1997, when Fadness coached Caledonia to the Class 2A state championship with a victory over DeLaSalle in the title game. After Fadness left Caledonia for Austin, his Packers team defeated DeLaSalle in a regular-season game in Austin.

“We played in the old gym and there were 10 million people there,” Thorson said.

They met when Fadness, a native of Houston, Minnesota, was a student at Luther College in Iowa. He gave up on his playing career after his sophomore year to concentrate on becoming a coach. He and Thorson worked together at summer basketball camps at Luther and elsewhere and hit it off.

“We established a relationship, a friendship,” said Fadness, who spent a year coaching in Iceland after graduating from Luther.

Thorson, a native of Fargo, N.D., helped Fadness get hired as an assistant coach at Hamline University (Thorson is a 1989 Hamline grad) under head coach Tim Mieure. When Mieure resigned, Fadness was looking for work once more and Thorson – then working as an assistant under Clem Haskins at Minnesota – helped him get the job in Caledonia.

“When times were tough and I needed a job, Dave was there to help,” Fadness said. “And we’ve been friends forever.”

DeLaSalle is the five-time defending state champion and is trying to become the first team in Minnesota history to win six consecutive championships.

“The toughest games are against the guys you respect the most,” Fadness said, adding “But it’s about the kids.”

Saturday’s championship game could be a fun one, with two athletic teams that sprint up and down the court. DeLaSalle advanced with an 86-60 win over Columbia Heights on Thursday and Austin beat Marshall 73-53.

“To be honest, we’ve been thinking about them all year,” Fadness said of the Islanders. “We feel good. We know it’s going to be a tough battle. If we play like we did today, with this type of energy, we have a shot. The big thing is you have to believe you can beat them. You’re playing against an aura, a tradition, and we think we have some of that in Austin.”

Thorson, who has watched Austin play four times this season, jokes about putting on a baseball cap and Spam T-shirt when he’s scouting at games in Austin.

“We both know we’re going to do what we do and I’m stubborn, and he’s going to do what he does and he’s stubborn,” Thorson said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing you have no chance. The way they play is hard to simulate.

“It will be a chess match between friends.”

Multi-tasking teenagers

All but two of the 15 members of Marshall’s basketball team are multi-sport athletes, and many of them are also involved in activities outside sports.

While the Tigers are playing in the Class 3A state basketball tournament this weekend, sophomore Bryce Paulsen and junior Jake Hess are involved in the Business Professionals of America Spring Leadership Conference this weekend in Minneapolis.

Hess was Marshall’s nominee for the MSHSL ExCEL Award (Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership) and senior Mitchell Sueker was a member of the Marshall Math Team that competed at the state math team tournament last week in South St. Paul.

Motivational trophy

When Champlin Park meets Apple Valley on Saturday night for the Class 4A state championship, the Rebels may look to a piece of hardware as motivation. It’s their second-place trophy from state two years ago.

They lost that title game to Apple Valley 64-61, their only loss of the season. They have brought the runner-up trophy to practice on occasion as a way to remind themselves where they do not want to finish this season.

Blast from the past

Jack Thurnblad, 96, who coached the last Wayzata team at state in 1959, was at Target Center for Thursday night’s Class 4A semifinals. He chatted with current Trojans coach Bryan Schnettler before the Trojans’ game with Champlin Park. The Rebels came out on top 70-62.

Thursday’s games

Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena

Minneapolis North 94, Red Lake 46
Springfield 73, Nevis 65
Goodhue 57, Lake Park-Audubon 37
North Woods 54, Central Minnesota Christian 51

Class 3A semifinals at Target Center
DeLaSalle 86, Columbia Heights 60
Austin 73, Marshall 53

Class 4A semifinals at Target Center
Champlin Park 70, Wayzata 62
Apple Valley 77, Maple Grove 54

Friday’s Games at Target Center

Class 1A semifinals

Noon/ Minneapolis North vs. Springfield
2 p.m./ Goodhue vs. North Woods

Class 2A semifinals
6 p.m./ Minnehaha Academy vs. Annandale
8 p.m./ St. Cloud Cathedral vs. Crosby-Ironton

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 555
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,307
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Champlin Park’s Dubois Joins The Hoffarber Miracle Club3/22/2017
Sometimes all it takes to win a basketball game is the right guy taking the right shot at the right time. And maybe get just a little bit lucky. Sam Dubois, welcome to the club.

The 5-foot-10 Champlin Park senior will long be remembered in state tournament lore for his game-winning heave in Wednesday’s opening game of the Class 4A tourney at Target Center.

“I wasn't really thinking,” he said. “I had to throw it up, and it went in. I was surprised.”

Wait. Those were not the words of Dubois. They were spoken late on the evening of March 19, 2005, when a Hopkins sophomore named Blake Hoffarber made a miracle shot from the seat of his pants to tie the 4A championship game with Eastview after one overtime. The Royals went on to win the title.

I was sitting in very nearly the same spot at Target Center for both of those shots, a dozen years apart. Both came on the same end of the court. Both were miraculous.

Sam’s shot Wednesday was just as big as Hoffarber’s in 2005. If he misses, the top-seeded Rebels go to overtime with unseeded Chaska and the rock-solid Hawks’ dream of pulling the mammoth upset has fresh oxygen. Sam’s shot was a slapdash thing, coming after the planned play for Rebels star McKinley Wright came up short.

Champlin Park killed most of the final 90 seconds of the game thusly: dribble, pass, repeat. The mission was clear: wait for the final seconds and let Wright (who finished with 30 points … duh) win the game. His final attempt missed, however, and the ball was tipped out beyond the three-point line.

That’s where Sam grabbed it and heaved it.

His teammates rushed him as he ran down the court, ending in a falling flash mob in front of the Chaska bench. It was wild.

“I’m speechless,” Sam said. “The ball just came to me and I didn’t know how much time was on the clock. I tried to get it off as fast as I could and it went in. I thought it was short. I honestly thought, ‘I missed it and we’re going to overtime.’ But it rolled in. I can’t tell you what happened after that because it was all a blur.”

Give the Hawks a high five for taking the unbeaten, top-ranked, top-seeded Rebels – the prohibitive favorite to win this tournament – to the ends of the earth. Champlin Park hardly ever held the lead. The Rebels were up once in the first half at 18-17 and trailed until Theo John scored with 4:25 to play, giving Champlin Park a 49-48 edge.

A free throw by Wright made it 50-48 before Chaska’s Ryan Rodriguez made a layup for a 50-50 score with 3:08 on the clock. Chaska didn’t get a shot off after that, while the Rebels missed three times. After the final miss, Dubois did his thing.

“I told a couple of their kids that I was proud of how they played,” Rebels coach Mark Tuchscherer said. “They played with a chip on their shoulder. We had to take a lot of good blows from them and we survived, we got it done.”

Making up for lost time
Lakeville North, last year’s Class 4A state runner-up, is making its sixth consecutive appearance at state. The Panthers’ opponent Wednesday was Wayzata, which was at state for the fourth time.

The story with the Trojans, however, did not consist of recent history. That’s because Wayzata’s previous appearances came in 1925, 1926 and most recently … 1959.

Final score: Wayzata 69, Lakeville North 66. The Trojans will meet Champlin Park in Thursday evening’s semifinals.

Play of the day

The Lake Park-Audubon boys basketball team will meet Goodhue in the Class 1A quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at Williams Arena. Before the Raiders left town Wednesday, they made a stop at Sunnyside Care Center in Lake Park. One of the players, 6-foot-10 senior Jesse Bergh, had a nice chat with his grandma.

Wednesday’s games

Class 4A quarterfinals

Champlin Park 53, Chaska 50
Wayzata 69, Lakeville North 66
Maple Grove 73, Andover 50
Apple Valley 76, Cretin-Derham Hall 67

Class 3A quarterfinals
DeLaSalle 55, Big Lake 47
Columbia Heights 77, Fergus Falls 74
Austin 55, St. Thomas Academy 49
Marshall 83, Grand Rapids 63

Class 2A quarterfinals
Minnehaha Academy 77, Lake City 63
Annandale 66, Jackson County Central 61
St. Cloud Cathedral 70, New Richland Hartland-Ellendale Geneva 59 (OT)
Crosby-Ironton 67, Breckenridge 46

Thursday’s games
Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena

11 a.m/ Minneapolis North vs. Red Lake
1 p.m./ Nevis vs. Springfield
3 p.m./ Goodhue vs. Lake Park-Audubon
5 p.m./ Central Minnesota Christian vs. Northwoods

Class 3A semifinals at Target Center
Noon/ DeLaSalle vs. Columbia Heights
2 p.m./ Austin vs. Marshall

Class 4A semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m./ Champlin Park vs. Wayzata
8 p.m./ Maple Grove vs. Apple Valley

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 547
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,257
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn