Andrew Hempeck (left) of Mountain Lake dove for a loose ball with Shan Cheema of Maranatha Christian during a Class 1A quarterfinal game Thursday at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Photo: JERRY HOLT * email@example.com
Maranatha Christian Academy excels in the open court. It also can efficiently break down a team while holding the ball.
The No. 1-ranked Mustangs were at their best in the final 17 minutes Thursday, turning a slim two-point advantage into a 61-44 victory over Mountain Lake Area in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena.
“We had a good flow in the first half, and let off the gas,” Mustangs senior forward Isaiah Hanson said. “We needed to step on the gas pedal again in the second half, and stay on it.”
Coach Jeff Wall’s squad has used a balanced attack all season in building a 30-1 record. On Thursday the Mustangs had four starters and their top reserve score in double figures.
“All season long we have had four players in double figures and maybe five,” Wall said. “Each guy brings something different to the table. We need that balance to be effective as a team.”
Sophomore Grantham Gillard came off the bench to score 15 points, all in the second half. The Mustangs stretched a four-point lead to 13 when he rattled off 13 consecutive points for his team.
“Sometimes young players will take a step back in big games,” Wall said. “Both Grantham and Jeremiah (Hanson) were aggressive today. They weren’t awestruck.”
Jeremiah Hanson, also a sophomore, added 13 points. Seniors Garrison Gillard and Isaiah Hanson had 12 and 11 points, respectively, while junior Josh Goldschmidt chipped in with 10 points. All five starters, the fifth is senior Shan Cheema, also had between two and four assists.
“We played better defense in the second half,” Garrison Gillard said. “Our defense led to our offense being better.”
The Wolverines (24-6) tried to match Maranatha by continually pounding the ball inside to Carter Kirk or Josiah Stoesz. Each of them recorded a double-double, combining for 34 points and 27 rebounds.
“We came here wanting to play three games,” Wall said. “This is the first step.”
1. Grantham Gillard, Maranatha Christian Academy
Held scoreless in the first half, Grantham put Mountain Lake away in the second. He scored his 15 second half points coming off the bench on a mixture of slashes and long range 3's.
2. Carter Kirk, Mountain Lake Area
Able to score at will in the post, Kirk was the main source of offense for MLA in this game. While scoring 20 points and pulling down 11 rebounds, Kirk did all he could in this game, including playing point guard later in the game and racking up four assists of his own.
3. Garrison Gillard, Maranatha Christian Academy
The third star of the game could have gone to any number of players for Maranatha (five players scored in double figures) but Garrison combined his 12 points with incredibly strong defense and hit the boards hard, snagging eight boards.
-Jake Lunemann, MN Basketball Hub