The Walker-Hackensack-Akeley boys had their best defensive performance of the season, and it came at the most important time — the opening round of the playoffs.
The Wolves held host Browerville-Eagle Valley, who last year knocked WHA out of the playoffs and beat them earlier this season in Walker, to under 30 percent shooting and forced them into 17 turnovers in a 60-38 rout Thursday night. The Wolves turned the ball over only eight times, and two of those came in the final minutes with the game well in-hand.
Coach Darin Schultz said he could not be more proud of the effort the guys showed. “Defensively, I think that was one of the best games we had this year. Our guys had energy and grit for the entire 36 minutes. That’s what helped us get this win,” he said. “We talk about wanting to play our best going into the playoffs — a win-or-go-home game, and we saw that in this game.”
Up next for the Wolves is No. 1 seed Nevis. WHA and Nevis face-off Saturday night at Wadena-Deer Creek High School, with a trip to the Section 5A West semis up for grabs.
“We’re looking forward to playing Nevis, one of our biggest rivals,” Schultz stated. “We lost to them twice in the regular season, but we came close to beating them the second time. It should be a fun game in a great atmosphere.”
In the Wolves’ win at Browerville, there was great balanced scoring from all seven players who regularly see action, with five of them making three-pointers.
Tom Hansen led the Wolves with 18 points, Clay Nelson scored 10, both Cole Rasmussen and TJ Smith finished with nine points, Ethan Anderson had eight, and Connor Craven and Trent Schultz added three points.
Rasmussen also had 12 boards and five assists, Anderson led with six steals and added six rebounds and four assists, Nelson had seven boards and three assists, and both Hansen and Smith had six boards.
Dylan Uphus scored half of the Tigers’ points with 19, with Will Spychalla adding seven.
The game started off quiet as there was only one basket made in the first five minutes of the game. That came on Nelson’s put back on WHA’s opening possession. At the 13:10 mark, Will Spychalla made two free throws for the Tiger’s first points, with Parker Duncan and Dylan Uphus following with a three-pointers and an 8-2 lead.
WHA would score the next 10 points, a lead they would not relinquish. Nelson drained a three off an inbounds pass from Anderson, Smith scored back-to-back baskets inside and Anderson sank a three with 6:08 left in the half.
Smith would score the next two WHA baskets for a 16-12 lead, with two free throws by Hansen and one by Craven extending the lead to 19-12.
Over the final 2:20, WHA would go on a 10-2 run to go up 29-14 at the break. Nelson scored on a drive, Hansen scored inside, and both Rasmussen and Anderson knocked down three-pointers.
The Tiger’s best opportunity to score came in the closing seconds, but Rasmussen blocked the shot and then cleaned the glass.
With the momentum firmly in their hands, WHA scored eight of first 11 points of the second half, with Hansen scoring them all. He drained a three-pointer on the second possession, completed a three-point play a minute later, and then made two foul shots for 37-17. After the Tigers scored the next six points, Nelson made a free throw and Hansen drained another three.
A missed lay up off a break-away and a turnover off what could have been another easy lay up did not affect WHA as they kept adding to their lead. A short time later Schultz drained a three-pointer, Nelson went coast-to-coast for a lay up, Rasmussen scored on a put back and Anderson made two free throws for a 57-32 lead with under four to play.
Coach Schultz went to his bench in the final minutes, with Kai Ashmore, Enrique Fineday, Adam Smith and Carson Strosahl each seeing action.