Photo by SportsEngine
We task our reporters with identifying several intriguing games throughout the state to assemble our Top Games of the Week. The matchups are presented in no particular order, and when there are additional games we want to highlight, we’ll include them with brief notes.
Park Center has grown accustomed to being viewed as one of the state's best high school boys' basketball teams during the regular season. But for all their success over the past six seasons, the Pirates have had their share of postseason disappointment.
Park Center (23-1, 16-1) takes on Andover (16-8, 13-4) on Tuesday night as it begins the final week of the regular season to almost certainly wrap up a conference championship and take the No. 1 ranking into the Class 4A playoffs.
In 2019, the Pirates took the No. 1-4A ranking into the playoffs and secured a state tournament berth but lost a two-point heartbreaker to fifth-seeded Lakeville North in the semifinals. The next season, Park Center won 21 games and another conference championship and advanced to the Class 4A, Section 5 final against Spring Lake Park before its state championship dreams were dashed when the season was abruptly cancelled. Last season, Park Center reached the section final but lost 69-63 to Champlin Park.
And so the Pirates' battle for an elusive title begins again. And, despite recent misses, the team has plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Park Center is playing well as the regular season comes to a close. The Pirates have beaten their past three opponents by a combined 72 points, and that includes a 30-point revenge victory over No. 2-3A Totino-Grace, the only team to have beaten Park Center this season.
The Pirates have a tall and athletic crew led by University of Minnesota commit Braeden Carrington (18.4 points per game) and San Jose State commit Leo Torbor (14.2 ppg). Cody Pennebaker, a 6-5 senior averaging 14.4 points in his first season at Park Center after a transfer from St. Francis, has been a helpful addition.
Andover, meanwhile, played its best basketball during the middle of the season while winning eight of nine games after a 3-3 start. The Huskies are 5-4 after the nine-game stretch.
Juniors Sam Musungu (20.9 ppg) and Ben Kopetzki (17.5 ppg) are the Huskies' top scorers. Conner Foy, a 6-2 senior who averages nearly 10 points and more than five rebounds a game, will have the unenviable task of trying to make an impact underneath the basket while battling a Pirates' front line with no player shorter than 6-5. Samuel Angell, at 6-4 and averaging nearly eight rebounds a game, will help.
Boden Kapke was in the middle of a successful summer with D1 Minnesota and feeling pretty optimistic when he sat down for an interview with GopherHole.com. He had dreams of a high school state tournament appearance for his Holy Family team in 2022.
In a later interview with the University of Minnesota fan website he tempered his hopes a little, realizing a perennially strong Minneapolis North team stood in the Fire's way of a Class 2A, Section 5 championship.
This week, as the regular season comes to a conclusion, Kapke and his Fire teammates still have an opportunity to reach the state tournament. And they still have a few obstacles in their way, the nearest being Friday's opponent, Wright County East Conference rival Southwest Christian Academy.
The Stars (13-10, 5-4), playing their first season in the Wright County East Converence, beat Holy Family 85-84 on Feb. 8 despite a monster game from Kapke, who is getting a lot of attention from Division-I schools, including the Gophers. The 6-11, 230-pound junior set a school record with 43 points to go along with 20 rebounds in the loss.
Kapke already was on college scouts' radar after averaging 16.2 points and 11.2 rebounds as a sophomore. He was good last year; he's been dominant this season with averages of 27.3 points and 14.9 rebounds, right near the top of the state's leaders in both categories, according to stats entered in MN Basketball Hubs. He already has received offers from the Gophers, Iowa, Wake Forest, Xavier and Loyola Chicago.
College ball remains more than a season away and Kapke's immediate focus will be on closing out the regular season and helping the Fire (12-12, 4-5) advance in the section playoffs.
When these teams meet in the regular-season finale on Friday, the winner's prize could very well be the Granite Ridge Conference championship.
But there's another trophy at stake that might mean just as much to the players involved. Friday's winner takes home the Traveling Trophy, which goes to the winner when the rivals play and which Mora just won back earlier this season after losing it in last year's regular-season finale.
Mora (21-3, 10-1 Granite Ridge Conference) beat Albany 59-56 on Feb. 8 and regained possession of the rivalry prize that the Mustangs lost in a 50-49 lost on March 11, 2021.
Mustangs senior Garret Honstrom, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds in the February matchup, said that victory washed out a lingering bad taste and provided a boost of confidence.
"That trophy means so much to this team. ... It just shows how much work everyone has put in to show that we still can complete not just for our conference but for our section," Hohnstrom told Nick Hoffman of the Kanabec County Times.
Both Mora and Albany (20-4, 11-1 Granite Ridge Conference) compete in Class 2A, Section 6, along with St. Cloud Cathedral (15-9, 10-2), a team that has beaten both this year already. Mora likely will need to beat Cathedral on Tuesday to set up a Friday showdown for the conference championship.
Minneapolis South vs. Minneapolis Southwest, 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 1. Minneapolis North has a chokehold on the Minneapolis City Conference, but this year’s race for the spot below the Polars has been a good one. South (13-6, 7-2) gave No. 1-3A Columbia Heights its biggest scare of the season in a 79-78 loss on Jan. 22 and beat Southwest 66-64 on Jan. 27.
Henning vs. Ashby, 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 4. A three-game losing streak at the start of February knocked Henning (19-4, 11-2) out of the Class 1A rankings and a shot at the Park Region Conference championship. But a victory over No. 7-1A Ashby (19-2, 10-1 Little Eight) would give the Hornets a boost of confidence heading into a Class 1A Section 6 tournament that includes No. 2-1A New York Mills and Ashby.
Eastview vs. Farmington, 7 p.m., Friday, March 4. The final regular-season game for both teams will have an impact on the South Suburban Conference standings. Two games separate the top four teams, with No. 10-4A Farmington (17-7, 13-3) just one game behind No. 2-4A Shakopee and No. 4-4A Eastview (18-5, 12-4) two games back.
The MN Basketball Hub poll is for entertainment purposes only.