Twenty-two years ago, one of the most famous games in boys state basketball tournament history was played at the St. Paul Civic Center. Just say the words "Wabasso vs. Red Lake" and people smile at the memory.
In the 1997 Class 1A semifinals, Wabasso held a 14-point lead with 1 minute, 15 seconds to play in the fourth quarter (yes, four eight-minute quarters were used then instead of the current 18-minute halves). Red Lake rallied to tie the score and send the game into overtime, where Wabasso came away with a 117-113 victory.
The game lives on in the tournament record book: Most points by a winning team, most points by a losing team, most field goals made (48 by Red Lake) and attempted (87 by Red Lake). Red Lake sophomore Gerald Kingbird scored 37 points and Wabasso junior Derrick Jenniges scored 31.
Jenniges (pictured) returned to state for the first time (other than as a fan) on Thursday. Now 39 years old, he's the head coach at Westbrook-Walnut Grove, which was defeated by North Woods 56-39 in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena. He's in his 16th season as coach of the Chargers but memories from that 1997 game are vivid.
"I remember the same things I'm experiencing here," he said, "the community support and excitement all around. All the well-wishes from surrounding teams and officials and coaches. That never really changes. But as far as the game itself, we knew the game was going to be fast. It was just a pretty amazing environment. Since then I've ran across Gerald Kingbird a couple times and it's kind of neat to have those conversations."
Wabasso then lost in the state championship game to Hancock 60-58.
“I remember we didn't win that game,” Jenniges said with a laugh. “Nobody else around the state remembers who won the championship that year.”
Westbrook-Walnut Grove came to state this year with a record of 23-7. In a winter marked by horrible weather, the Chargers have been something to rally around for their fans in southwest Minnesota.
“It’s been a real community event, especially this winter when all you could talk about was snow and weather and school was out again,” said Jenniges, who teaches first grade in the district and is a high-level football official, having worked two Prep Bowl games. “It’s kind of a fresh conversation.”
In a school with an enrollment of 100 students in grades nine through 12, there are only 17 boys playing basketball. The roster includes two eighth-graders, four ninth-graders, six sophomores, one junior and four seniors. Multiple players have been injured or ill at different times, but “We finally feel like in the last three weeks we’ve been healthy enough to hit our stride,” the coach said.
“I don’t think I have a kid on my roster who’s ever attended the state tournament, let alone thought about playing in it,” Jenniges said earlier this week. “We’ll get there early and take a look around. It won’t be like we’re walking on the moon. Once the ball goes up, it’s a basketball game.”Henning Plays For Jacob
Every player on the Henning basketball team has two initials sewn on the back of their jersey, just below the neckline. The letters JQ stand for Jacob Quam, who would have been a senior captain on this year’s Hornets team. His jersey (number 33) also is with the team on the bench and in the locker room; the team brought the jersey to Jacob’s gravesite before they left for the state tournament.
Jacob was killed on April 13, 2017, when the driver of a semi crossed the center line and collided with Jacob’s vehicle.
The Hornets defeated Christ’s Household of Faith 63-56 in Thursday’s Class 1A quarterfinals and will meet Spring Grove in the semifinals Friday at Target Center.
“In every game, we know he’s there,” said Henning senior Sam Fisher, who led all scorers with 20 points Thursday.Tournament Tidbits
--Among the assistant coaches at Spring Grove is one of the most successful head coaches in history. Before stepping down after the 2017-18 season, Tom Vix coached at Rushford-Peterson for 33 years, compiling a record of 683-229. His teams went to 16 state tournaments and won titles in 1989, 2006 and 2015. The unseeded Lions, making their first state appearance, beat top-seeded Springfield 78-67 on Thursday behind 60-percent shooting.
“I think it’s just confidence,” said Spring Grove senior Alex Folz, who quarterbacked the Lions to the last two nine-man football state championships and scored 21 points Thursday. “Coach Vix has been here multiple times. He brought us here early to get us adapted to the light, so when we came in it was just another game. You’ve just got to shoot your shots. We wanted to move the ball and get wide-open shots and that’s what we did. I think confidence is the main reason we shot so well.”
--Cromwell-Wright senior Jaden Gronner wears a cap to protect a cochlear implant and hearing aid. Coach Bill Pocernich wears an FM sound system that hangs around his neck in order to help Jaden hear him.Boys State Basketball Tournament
Thursday’s Class 1A quarterfinals
Spring Grove 78, Springfield 67
Henning 63, Christ’s Household of Faith 56
Ada-Borup 49, Cromwell-Wright 39
North Woods 56, Westbrook-Walnut Grove 39
Friday’s 1A semifinals
Noon: Spring Grove vs. Henning
2 p.m.: Ada-Borup vs. North Woods
Friday’s 2A semifinals
6 p.m.: Minnehaha Academy vs. Lake City
8 p.m.: Minneapolis North vs. Perham
DeLaSalle 93, Princeton 54
Waseca 79, Austin 69
Saturday’s championship game
5 p.m.: DeLaSalle vs. Waseca
Lakeville North 47, Park Center 45
Hopkins 71, East Ridge 47
Saturday’s championship game
8 p.m.: Lakeville North vs. Hopkins
--All semifinals and championship games televised by KSTC Channel 45 and webcast for free by prep45.com.--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to “Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.