BLUE EARTH - The Blue Earth Area Bucs boys basketball team held off a late Granada-Huntley-East Chain charge to take a 56-51 victory in the first round of the Blue Earth Area Holiday Invite on Thursday night in Blue Earth.
The Bucs (2-1, 0-1 South Central Conference) will face Jackson County Central in the championship game at 7:45 p.m. tonight in Blue Earth.
The Mustangs (1-5, 1-3 Valley Conference) face United South Central at 6 p.m. in the third-place game.
The Huskies featured four scorers in double figures as Jackson County Central defeated the Rebels 72-64 in the early tournament game on Thursday in Blue Earth.
Taylor Christopher led the Huskies' offense with 21 points, while Austin Hinckeldey added 16 in the win. Jon Harmening and Darnell Taylor-Breck tallied 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Cole Stencel led the Rebels scoring attack by recording 23 points.
In the nightcap, the Bucs' Luke Monson recorded his team's first nine points to help establish an early lead. Monson lit up the scoreboard for the Bucs in the opening half, scoring 15 of his 17 points to keep the Mustangs at bay.
In the second half, it was Brandyn Olsen scoring 12 of his 20 points for BEA, which made nine free throws in the final 10 minutes to clinch the victory.
Steven Plocker started the free-throw parade by making two with 9:20 left to give the Bucs a 36-34 lead. After a missed scoring attempt by the Mustangs, Olsen shot in the lane and was fouled, sinking both free throws for a four-point lead.
Derek Johnson sank four free throws during the final 17 seconds to maintain the BEA lead and secure the five-point victory.
"I was happy we made free throws at the end of the game. That was huge for us," said Blue Earth Area head coach Randy Kuechenmeister. "Give GHEC credit, they hung in there and made plays to stay in the game. We were just able to fight them off."
Ryan Shumski and Dylan Petrowiak helped fuel the Mustangs late in the opening half.
Petrowiak missed a layup, but managed to steal the basketball back and fed it cross-court to Josh Wolter for a lay-in to tie the game 15-15 with 7:46 left.
Monson responded with a basket to take back the two-point lead, but two free throws by Josh Johanson with 5:20 remaining knotted the game up again in the first half at 17-17.
Shumski's five first-half points helped spark the Mustangs and gave them their first lead, 19-17, with 4:25 left.
"I thought that Ryan responded well for us. He got to the rim and was able to get some big boards in the game," said Granada-Huntley-East Chain head coach Scott Chirpich. "Offensively, we took better care of the ball, but on defense, we need to be in a help spot and get back in transition."
Monson's rebounding and offensive effort helped the Bucs take a 27-19 lead at half, one they would not relinquish.
Shumski managed to hit a jumper in the lane over Monson and Plocker to tie the game at 34-34 with just under 10 minutes to play, but Plocker's free throws stopped the Mustang momentum.
The Mustangs had one final chance to win the game with 8.8 seconds remaining when Johanson sank two free throws to make it 54-51.
Blue Earth Area's 17 of 25 free throw performance, however, thwarted any sort of last minute heroics.
Plocker finished the game with 10 points for the Bucs and pulled down five rebounds.
Konnor Kristenson led the Mustangs with 15 points, while Shumski finished with 13 points and collected four rebounds.