BEMIDJI, Minn. – For the first time since 1971, East Grand Forks basketball fans, coaches and players are making plans to attend the Minnesota state boys basketball tournament.
The Green Wave punched their ticket to Minneapolis on Friday night at the Bemidji State University gym when they slipped past Barnesville 56-54 in the Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 championship game.
The victory wasn’t assured until Barnesville’s drive-in shot at the buzzer slid off the rim and onto the floor.
“It’s tough to describe the feeling, but there is a lot of happiness and a lot of joy,” said EGF coach Travis Lindgren following the medal ceremony. “I’m really proud of these guys. They are outstanding student-athletes and are character guys. They really deserve a moment like this.”
Had the shot at the buzzer by Barnesville guard Michael Strand slid left instead of right after bouncing off the back rim, the outcome might have been different. Both teams gave it their all and both teams deserved to win. On this night, however, East Grand Forks was a bucket better.
“I had fun playing this game, until I missed the final shot,” said Strand, who scored 30 points. “I thought it would be a close game, and they (East Grand Forks) played a heck of a game.”
So did Strand.
“Michael’s a special guy,” said Barnesville coach Todd Henrickson. “He’s the type of person you get to coach once in a lifetime, and I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach him.”
The Green Wave also had a go-to guy Friday night – 6-foot-7 center Jim Warmack. The senior had four points at the break but scored 14 in the second half. He was the center of attention for his teammates and for the defense.
“At half the coach talked about getting it inside,” Warmack said. “If we got it inside, it would be easier to knock it outside for the shooters to shoot. My height helped me a lot, but my teammates were able to find me when I was open.”
Nothing was decided in the first 18 minutes as the teams headed to the locker room knotted at 26-26.
Both squads tried to develop an inside game, and at times the tactic worked. EGF’s main early weapon was Ty Misalek, who scored 12 points in the first half, 10 of them from the paint.
Barnesville countered with Strand. The senior guard had 13 points at the break.
The second half opened with EGF taking control. An 18-8 run spearheaded by Warmack gave the Green Wave a 44-36 advantage with 10 minutes to play, but the Trojans recovered to make it close.
With Strand leading the charge, Barnesville forged an 18-10 flurry, which knotted the game 54-54 with a minute to go.
Warmack converted a pair of free throws down the stretch to give EGF a 56-54 edge, and those two points proved to be just enough to send the Green Wave to the state tournament for only the fourth time in the program’s history and the first time since 1971.
“There was a lot of emotion after the game,” Lindgren said. “The hard work and effort and all the time we put in this year has culminated with this.”
East Grand Forks will take a 20-9 record into the state tournament. Barnesville finished the winter 22-6.
Half: EGF 26, B 26
EGF: Hammargren 3, Misialek 15, Havis 7, Warmack 20, Sheving 2, Bjornson 9.
B: Martz 14, Strand 30, B. Sauve 6, Ishaug 4.
Story by Pat Miller/Forum News Service