Southwest Minnesota Christian's Eric Talsma, middle left, and Kaleb Schelhaas, middle right, celebrate in flight after their team defeated Maranatha Christian 81-73 in the Class 1A championship game Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo: DAV
How often did Southwest Minnesota Christian senior guard Dominic Nibbelink think about losing last season’s Class 1A state basketball championship game?
“I thought about that game every day since it happened,” said Nibbelink, who shot just 25 percent from the field in the loss. “I wanted to come back up here and redeem myself.”
Saturday’s 81-73 championship game victory against Maranatha Christian Academy at the Target Center, fueled by Nibbelink’s personal eight-point run and career-high 29 points, squared all accounts.
With the victory, the third-seeded Eagles (30-1) won their school’s fifth state title. Southwest Minnesota Christian, located in Edgerton, won four consecutive state titles from 1999 to 2002.
By contrast, No. 1 seed Maranatha, located in Brooklyn Park, reached its first-ever title game. The newcomers meant business. Maranatha ripped off a 12-1 run to take a 33-30 first half lead. Senior forward Isaiah Hanson’s put back with one second remaining sent the Mustangs into halftime leading 37-34.
The Mustangs (31-2) stretched its halftime advantage to a 51-44 lead less than six minutes into the second half.
Southwest Christian got within three points on two lay-ins from junior center Leighton Sampson and another from junior guard Nate Pfeifle.
“They got us back in the game,” Nibbelink said. “On our team we rely on every guy and they were both huge.”
Nibbelink would eclipse their contributions with his own eight-point run. A three-pointer, followed by a three-point play and a jump shot, gave the Eagles a 60-58 lead with less than eight minutes remaining.
“That’s when I knew we were going to have a good shot at winning the game,” Nibbelink said.
Though challenged, Southwest Minnesota Christian would never trail again. The title game loss that haunted Eagles’ players for a year paid unexpected dividends Saturday.
Their experience bred confidence, which helped the Eagles make plays, limit turnovers and hit free throws down the stretch. Meanwhile, Mustangs’ coach Jeff Wall said his team “got anxious” within the high-pressure environment, resulting in a sporadic offensive showing in the second half.
“Last year is what really got us to this point,” said Nibbelink, who made eight free throws in the game’s final six minutes. “This year we weren’t nearly as nervous.”
1. Dominic Nibbelink, Southwest Minnesota Christian
The Eagles came alive in the second half, with Nibbelink scoring 23 of his 29 points in the final half of his high school career. He was 2-3 from beyond the arc, and also was quite the playmaker with 7 assists. Nibbelink scored over half of the Eagles points in the second half, and without his stellar play towards the end of the game, the Eagles may not have been raising the title after regulation.
2. Leighton Sampson, Southwest Minnesota Christian
The junior provided all the strength in the paint needed to battle the Mustangs' tall starting five. He was dominant in the paint all year and today he the story was no different, scoring 22 points. He had five defensive rebounds and was 11-15 from the field. Sampson had three blocks that kept the Eagles energy flowing throughout the game.
3. Isaiah Hanson, Marantha Christian Academy
Hanson led the Mustangs with 24 points and eight rebounds. He shot 4-5 from beyond the arc and 10-15 from 2-pt range. Hanson scored twice of offensive rebounds which was what kept the Mustangs in the game scoring 18 second chance points.
-Trevor Squire, MN Basketball Hub