Panthers survive Bucs’ upset bid, 49-47
MANKATO — A game between two teams that featured a 32-point win margin told a different story in the rematch two weeks later.
With two seconds left in the contest, senior guard Jerret Utpadel intercepted the No. 4-seeded Blue Earth Area Bucs’ long pass as the No. 1-seeded New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva Panthers prevented overtime in the 49-47 Section 2AA, South Sub-Section semifinal win on Thursday night at Mankato East High School.
Blue Earth Area capped off the season at 7-18. The Panthers (24-3) play No. 2-seeded Maple River at 8 p.m. Monday at Mankato State University, Mankato. Maple River took a 68-57 win over No. 3-seeded St. Peter to advance.
“New Richland’s very good defensively,” Bucs head coach Colby Swanson said. “They’re well-coached and they just made some plays. Unfortunately, they made one more than we did.”
Bucs sophomore guard Caelan Sanders tied the game at 47 with a tear-drop basket, but Panthers junior guard Brady Agrimson hit the winning two free throws at the 2-second mark during a 1-and-1 situation.
The Bucs came out and played the Panthers closely, a much different story than when the Panthers beat them, 61-29, on Feb. 20 in New Richland.
“The first time we played them, their inside guys were incredibly physical with us. They got a lot of offensive rebounds against us,” Swanson said on Thursday night. “Tonight we did a much better job keeping a body on people. We just played twice as hard as we’ve played any other game this year.”
The first half featured eight lead changes and three ties with the Panthers recording the largest lead, 20-16, with 4:20 left in the frame.
Down 16-13, Agrimson hit a hook shot, then tipped in Utpadel’s inbounds pass to regain the lead. Senior guard and Gustavus Adolphus College commit Benji Lundberg then hit a three in the Panthers’ short 7-0 run.
Sophomore guard Carter Bell started the Bucs’ short run with his 3 before freshman guard Austin Thielfoldt, who had four points and three assists, made two charity tosses.
The back-and-forth half ended with freshman guard Cameron Anderson laying in an easy bucket for the 25-24 lead going into the lockerroom.
“In the first half, we wanted to make sure that we were the ones that were in control of the pace,” Swanson said. “We wanted to be the ones to initiate (whether or not) to slow the game down a little bit, spread their big guys out and try to drive by them. I thought we did a pretty good job controlling pace.”
The second half was consistent with the first as both teams stayed within three for much of the contest. With less than 4:30 remaining in the contest, Lundberg, who had a game-leading 19 points, and Utpadel hit back-to-back baskets for a 47-42 advantage.
Bucs sophomore guard answered with a trey from the volleyball line to get the team back within two before the down-to-the-wire ending.
“I was very impressed with how Blue Earth Area played tonight. They kept switching from 2-3 (zone defense), to 1-3-1 to man for a bit and we didn’t attack them very well,” Panthers head coach Pat Churchill said.
Lundberg added five assists and four rebounds to his scoring performance, while Agrimson went 5-for-6 from the field for 12 points.
Jacob Vaske ended the night with eight rebounds and nine points in his final prep season for the Bucs.
“To watch both his physical maturity and his maturity as a leader has been so fun for me,” Swanson said about Vaske. “They (the team) were following his lead of him being incredibly physical. … We’re going to miss him next year.”
Sanders had 12 points and four rebounds, Bell totaled 11 points and Anderson came off the bench with six points and three rebounds.
Lundberg 8-19 0-0 19, Agrimson 5-6 2-3 12, Schuller 3-3 1-4 7, Hannegrefs 3-6 1-2 7, Utpadel 2-7 0-0 4, Buendorf 0-2 0-0 0, Techau 0-0 0-0 0, Castle 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-43 4-9 49.
BLUE EARTH AREA (47)
Sanders 6-13 0-0 12, Bell 4-6 0-0 11, Vaske 4-11 0-4 8, Strukel 2-4 0-0 6, Anderson 3-3 0-0 6, Thielfoldt 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 20-41 2-6 47.
3-pointers: BEA 5-9 (Bell 3-5, Strukel 2-3, Vaske 0-1); NRHEG 3-17 (Lundberg 3-10 Utpadel 0-5, Buendorf 0-2). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: NRHEG 24 (Utpadel 8); BEA 18 (Vaske 9). Assists: NRHEG 8 (Lundberg 5); BEA 6. Steals: NRHEG 8; BEA 5.