Sunday, March 18, 2018

A closer look at my own personal March Madness

One of the things I often tell people when discussing my work is that I love all the different things I get to do. It's true. I stay busy with a variety of different assignments and beats from a variety of different media outlets. Plus, there's the social media side of things, too.

It's never more evident than this time of year when tournaments are plentiful and the baseball season is on the horizon. There's basketball, hockey, even some state swimming/diving. I enjoy staying busy trying to cover as much as I can, or as my schedule will allow.

This past week, I started out with some spring training updates from home for the Twins. It hasn't been the best week for the Twins in terms of wins-losses and plays in the field, but it's spring training, and I don't think there's been this level of optimism with a Twins offseason in a very long time. Safe to say the anticipation of the season and building on last year's wild-card playoff game is pretty high.

State hoops: 3A quarterfinal
By Wednesday, I got set up at Williams Arena to kick off the girls' basketball state tournament with a Class 3A quarterfinal game between Alexandria and eventual-champion Robbinsdale Cooper. I'd seen Alexandria play a little bit during my time in Fergus Falls since they often played each other in the section tournament. Their coach Wendy Kohler is one of the most animated and fun to watch along the bench. Cooper had a storyline with fourth-year coach Kiara Buford, a former Gophers player who also won back-to-back state titles with St. Paul Central. Her younger sister Jada was just one of the stars on this year's Cooper team.

Sometimes quarterfinal games at the state tournament level can turn into blowouts, and I was glad this wasn't the case here. Alexandria held a lead for much of the first half before top-seed Cooper took over for a 58-51 victory. Afterward, Kohler was diplomatic in her comments about tournament seeding and saying she doesn't agree with it but respects the Minnesota State High School League. Her team was unseeded and faced no. 1 seed Cooper in the first game; Kohler advocated for a 1 through 8 seeding system, rather than the 1-5 system in place now.

Deja vu
Thursday, I had the same assignment from a year ago: The Class 3A, Section 6 boys' basketball section championship game. The opponents were the same, too, in 2-seed Orono and 1-seed and six-time defending state champion DeLaSalle.

This game between the Spartans and Islanders was played in front of a full house at Chanhassen High School that included Gophers men's basketball coach Richard Pitino; he was there to watch two of his recruits face off against each other in Orono senior Jarvis Thomas Omersa and DeLaSalle senior Gabe Kalscheur. The teams were introduced as the six-time defending Class 3A state champion DeLaSalle and the Orono Spartans, "the home of the Class 1A boys' hockey champions." I thought it was an interesting touch.

The crowd was much bigger than last year, and I'm wondering if either school had a girls' hoops team playing at state at the same time, or if there was just that much more interest in the future-Gopher matchup. Either way, it was an outstanding section final, just like the year before when DeLaSalle won by three points.

The teams were tied at the half, giving an early indication of just how competitive they are against each other. It was a tight game of runs for most of the way, with the scoring staying close. That is until Orono opened up a 12-point lead with just a few minutes to play. I started preparing to write the "Orono upset" story. Related: I should have known better.

The Islanders came back down the stretch, thanks in large part to Kalscheur's clutch shots, including a trio of 3-pointers inside two minutes remaining that got his team within two points, within one and then tied the game with 13.9 seconds left. He just kept answering; he ended up with a season-high/game-high 38 points.

It sure looked like overtime was on the horizon (which is not very friendly for my print deadline, I think to myself selfishly). But as time was expiring, the officials called a foul on Thomas Omersa with less than a second left on the clock. It sent DeLaSalle senior Christian Dickson to the free throw line, and the two shots gave the reigning champs an 80-78 victory. A comeback filled with experienced players, and a heartbreaker for the Spartans who fell short yet again.

More girls' hoops, different venue
I was back on the state tournament beat by Friday evening, this time from the floor of the newly-renovated Target Center. I haven't covered much at this Minneapolis venue, so it was fun to be on the floor on press row getting a close look at the game. I had back-to-back games, covering the Class 2A semifinals.

First, it was Sauk Centre taking on Norwood-Young America. Team names are always fun from some of the schools around the state. I think Awesome Blossoms from Blooming Prairie is still my favorite, but Sauk Centre has the Mainstreeters. Sauk Centre had to come back from a halftime deficit in their quarterfinal win over Byron, and the coach mentioned after Friday's game how similar they two contests were, at least at the start.

They were tied at the half 23-23 but used a 16-2 run in the second half to take control and coast to a 54-45 win to keep their perfect season alive. For NYA, their coach mentioned after the game that they've been to state three of the past four years, and Sauk Centre has ended their championship hopes each time (twice in the quarterfinal before this year's semi loss).

In the second game, the defending-champion Roseau Rams needed a comeback victory to beat Maranatha Christian Academy (a team that moved up from Class 1A and making its ninth straight state appearance overall). Maranatha led by five points at the half and used free throws to keep pace early in the second half when both teams when for a long time without a field goal. Kacie Borowicz just couldn't miss in the home stretch, and she scored a season-high 40 points.

The Rams won 78-66 to get a rematch with Sauk Centre in the title game.

All the sports 
Those were just my experiences with sports. So many other things happened (in no particular order, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something):

  • Gophers women's basketball won an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 2009 
  • Gophers men's hockey will not make a trip to the NCAA tournament after a perfect storm of events
  • St. Cloud State lost the NCHC Frozen Faceoff
  • A 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament for the first time ever 
  • Everyone's bracket is busted
  • Two girls' basketball teams finished with undefeated seasons (Sauk Centre in Class 2A and Eastview in Class 4A)
  • Minnesota United kicked off its season
  • The Wild swept the season series against the Vegas Golden Knights
  • The Vikings wined-and-dined and signed a quarterback, but I don't think much has been written about that
  • Legendary race car driver and IndyCar team owner A.J. Foyt is apparently O.K. after a second attack by killer bees on his Texas ranch
  • IndyCar kicked off its season last Sunday with a race in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sebastian Bourdais, who sustained severe injuries in a horrific crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during 2017 Indy 500 qualifying, won the race.
  • Tennis from Indian Wells

They don't call it March Madness for nothing. Next up: Bring on baseball season!