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Park Christian headed to state in boys basketball for first time ever

Hunter Nickel ,left, and the rest of the Falcons and fans celebrate Park Christian's victory over Battle Lake at Concordia College Friday. Photos by Dave Samson/Forum News Service

MOORHEAD – Moorhead Park Christian shooting guard Matt Moberg had tears in his eyes, remembering the fourth-grade sleepovers he, Duncan Hannestad, Hunter Nickel and Jared Olsgaard used to have. They’d stay up late talking about making it to the state boys basketball tournament together.

The four seniors will have a tough time sleeping after punching Park Christian’s first-ever trip to state with a 62-59 win over No. 2-ranked Battle Lake in the Minnesota Class 1A, Section 6 championship game Friday at Memorial Auditorium.

“This is eight years in the making,” Moberg said. “We made it.”

Moberg and Hannestad scored 10 points combined in Park Christian’s win in the sub-section championship Tuesday. Friday, Moberg had 16, Hannestad had 20, and the duo drilled eight 3-pointers.

“Warming up, I just didn’t feel like our season was over,” Moberg said.

“I came in thinking this can’t be the end, so we have to win,” Moberg added. “We had to keep going.”

Facing the defending section champions in Battle Lake, which was ranked second in Class 1A and the only undefeated boys basketball team in the state, Moberg may have been a bit outnumbered thinking Park Christian’s season wasn’t over.

“It’s unbelievable,” Hannestad said. “We knew that we’d have our hands full and we’d have to play our best game of the year.”

Park Christian (22-9) opened the game on a 9-2 and by the time the Falcons were up 15-7, all five starters had scored. The focus for a Battle Lake team that was second in the state in average points against was swarming Nickel down low. Problem was, no one was missing outside, as the Falcons drained their first eight 3-pointers.

“We have five threats on the floor at all times,” said Nickel, who finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. “Any night could be any of our nights. Last few games, they haven’t been guarding me as hard, so I got my points. Tonight, they did, so I found them for beautiful 3-pointers. When they guard me, there’s four options wide open.”

The beautiful 3-pointers are the ones that go in. For Battle Lake (27-1), they weren’t so pretty.

“They really hit shots,” Battle Lake coach Dan Peterka said. “Every time we gave them a look, they made us pay. Nickel inside is such a load that you have to help out.”

During a timeout and with Battle Lake trailing 22-11, Peterka told his squad they were sleeping. The Battlers woke up, using a 13-2 run to tie things up.

Then the boys, who spent fourth-grade sleepovers awake talking about dreams, put the Battlers back to sleep. Nickel answered with a 3-point play, Moberg buried a 3-pointer and Hannestad sank a pair of 3-pointers, closing the half with a 12-2 run.

“We wanted to get them behind early because I don’t think they’d ever been in that situation,” Park Christian coach Erv Inniger said. “When you have Hunter underneath and those guys up high, it pushes everything up. We hit shots.”

Eight minutes into the second half, Park Christian was up 53-41, but the Battlers had one more wake-up call in them. They used a 15-5 run to cut the lead to 58-56 with 1 minute, 40 seconds to go.

After a Park Christian turnover, the Battlers missed two free throws with 59.4 seconds to go, which would have tied it. Olsgaard hit a layup to make it 60-56 and Nickel buried two free throws with 6.3 seconds remaining to put the game to bed.

The Falcons seniors could rest easy.

“It’s a dream come true,” Moberg said.

P (22-9): M. Moberg 7 0-0 16, Kvalvog 4 0-0 9, Olsgaard 2 0-0 4, Hannestad 7 0-0 20, Nickel 4 3-3 11, N. Moberg 1 0-0 2. Totals 25 3-3 62.

B (27-1): A. VanErp 3 0-2 8, Tony Ukkelberg 3 4-5 10, P. VanErp 3 2-3 9, Tyler Ukkelberg 6 3-3 16, Trosdahl 7 2-4 16. Totals 22 11-17 59.

Halftime: P 36, B 26. 3-pointers: Moberg 2, Hannestad 6, Kvalvog 1, Tyler Ukkelberg 1, A. VanErp 2, P. VanErp 1. Total fouls: P 14, B 11. Rebounds: P 23 (Nickel 9), B 30 (Tyler Ukkelberg 7).

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

(701) 241-5548