Hot turns to cold for Lions in semi-finals

LEFT: Kyle Hagen looks for a passing lane as Isaac Griffin sets a screen and Payton Leahy offers an option behind the play in the state semi-final versus Henning. RIGHT: Takoda Boyd delivers bounce pass past Henning All-Tournament defender Sam Fisher. Photos by S. Lee Epps

The second state tourney opponent scored exactly 67 points again. It had not been enough for top seed Springfield, but it was much more than ample for No. 4 seed and eventual state champion Henning in a 67-34 semi-final frolic at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis on March 22. 

In 24 hours, the Spring Grove boys (24-5) went from their second-hottest shooting performance of the season (60%) to disastrous season-lows of 26% from the field and 29% from the free throw line (2 of 7). The Lions matched a season-low 17% from 3-point range. The Lions closed with a season-low 34 points and a 33-point loss.

Much credit must go the Hornets who would the next day claim the state Class A crown with a 67-42 runaway win in the championship game. 

It was according to coach Wade Grinde a battle of styles, including the "feverish pace" of the Hornets. "We have never seen that kind of speed before. We could never control the tempo."

That inability to control the tempo resulted into a lack of "rhythm," according to Grinde. In turn, he said that the Lions rushed shots more than usual. 

Henning coach Randy Misegades said his team needs to get into transition. "With our lack of size, that's how we play every night." 

He attributed the Hornet's high shooting percentage to fast break layups. "We were able to get to the rim in transition."

Henning's 25 transition points were the most for any Lion opponent this year, but the Hornets were hot from everywhere, hitting 47% of their 3-point attempts (8 for 17). The Hornets drilled 5 of 7 beyond the 3-point arc in the first half while taking control of the game.

The Lions led early 8-2 just before Henning launched a 21-to-4 scoring rampage. The Hornets led by only seven points before scoring the last 14 points of the first half.

A 21-point halftime lead (37-16) would balloon quickly with a 13-to-2 Henning run after the break.

Caden Grinde, KFIL Game Ball winner, was the lone Lion in double figures with 11 points. 

Kai Bjerke, KFIL Lion Player of the Game, was close with 9 points (all 3-pointers) and 4 rebounds.

Ethan Matzke (2 points) and Noah Elton (4) each had 6 rebounds.

Once again, turnovers were very close (Lions 15, Hornets 14), and both teams had 26 rebounds. The difference was again shooting; buoyed by fast break layups, Henning outshot SG from the field 57% to 26%. (The Hornets had shot only 39% during its 63-59 quarterfinal win.)

There were few trips to the foul line, but the Hornets did not miss a free throw (7 for 7). The Lions' two made free throws (2 for 7) were their fewest this season.

Henning had no significant height but displayed great ball movement and exceptional speed off the dribble. Four of the five starters scored in double figures. Junior guard Parker Fraki had 15 points and 9 rebounds. Senior guard and 1,000-point career scorer Sam Fisher added 15 points and 8 assists.

Finishing at 31-1, Henning suffered its only loss by three points in the final game of the regular season. The Hornets soon avenged that setback in the Section 6A championship game.

Henning was state-ranked No. 7 by both the media and the computer. The Hornets were at state for the third time, but 53 years since their earlier appearances in 1965 and 1966. 

The final 33-point spread had poignant significance for the Henning seniors, who lost a classmate and teammate two years ago in a fatal auto accident. His No. 33 jersey draped a chair on the bench.