The West Central Area boys basketball team was able to stick with top-seeded Parkers Prairie through 18 minutes on Monday night, but the Panthers were too big, too fast and too deep over the long haul.
Parkers Prairie (23-4) has size and quickness, and the Panthers use that to their advantage on both ends of the court. The Knights (15-10) came in averaging 64 points per game. They were held well below that in a 61-41 win for Parkers Prairie that puts this team into the subsection championship game on Wednesday night back in Morris.
“We’re pretty good when we have all five guys on the same page (defensively),” Parkers Prairie head coach Mike Felt said. “There’s been games we’ve done that the whole game, and there’s been games where we’ve come out at halftime and done that. That’s going to be our biggest thing going forward with the good guards these teams have.”
The Panthers make it hard on opposing teams with the balance they have from the post to the perimeter. Big men Travis Yohnke and Josh Helling both had a team-high 16 points for Parkers Prairie. They asserted themselves early, scoring 10 points each in the first half.
“Me and Travis are stronger than most other teams’ posts, so we just try to be a force down low so we can get looks for guys outside and get cutters coming in,” Helling said. “We all work together.”
The Knights withstood an early punch and hung around in the first half. They trailed just 32-27 at the break. Junior forward Gage Staples had 10 of his team-high 16 points by that point.
“I told them after the game that we executed the game plan pretty good,” WCA head coach Kraig Hunter said. “The second half, we just couldn’t get a shot to fall. It’s hard to explain. In the first half, we had good movement, we had guys under control. We were pretty good defensively until the last three minutes when we lost a couple guys.”
Parkers Prairie started the second half on a 7-0 run that made it 39-27 with 15:24 left. Hunter called timeouts to try to stop the bleeding, but the Panthers’ depth started to take over.
Parkers Prairie scored on four straight possessions at one point that turned a game within reach into a 20-point lead. The Panthers put four guys in double figures as junior point guard Alex Keop had 11 and senior Noah Koep added 10 to the big days for Yohnke and Helling.
“They have a very balanced team,” Hunter said. “Their big guys are probably 230 and 240 (pounds). Our’s are 145 and 175, so they were a problem. Then they’re so balanced because they have a quick, slashing point guard in Alex Koep and then Noah Koep, who is a shooter. That balance between their big guys, shooters and drivers is tough to defend.”
Felt liked the way his guys played defensively in the second half when they held the Knights to just 14 points. Parkers Prairie gives up less than 50 points per game, and teams the rest of the way will test that defense with only the best teams in the 6A field left standing.
“It’s going to come down to defensive stops and executing on offense,” Felt said. “A lot of our guys have played in state tournaments in baseball, so the stage doesn’t really get to them as much. If we can stay relaxed and play our game, that’s going to help us.”
The Panthers will take on second-seeded Ortonville in the subsection championship on Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. at the University of Minnesota-Morris. The Trojans beat Hancock on Monday night to advance.
Ortonville is 21-2, but one of those losses is to Parkers Prairie on Feb. 2 in an 81-74 final. The Panthers have won 18 of their last 19 games and are a confident bunch heading into the subsection championship.
After 20-plus win seasons ended short of the ultimate prize the last two years, they also know how tough the competition gets with two more wins needed to win a section title.
“We’re very eager to do the best we can,” Helling said. “We break it down every time with ‘All in.’ We’re all in every game, every practice. We know when to have fun, we know when to focus and we know what we need to do to take the next step and keep going.”
For WCA, it ends a season where these players matched their 15-10 record from a year ago after the loss of a big group of seniors.
Hunter likes the pieces coming back. The Knights graduate seniors Teigen Moritz and Gavin Paulson but should return everyone else from a group that gained a lot of experience this winter and picked up some good wins in the process.
“There were a lot of people who thought we weren’t going to be .500, so to have 15 wins, I thought we played very well for having a young team,” Hunter said. “These kids have some talent, but we’re not really physically mature yet. Need to put on some muscle, but they’re a very dedicated group. I think they have good basketball minds and they’re very coachable.”
PARKERS PRAIRIE 32 29 - 61
WCA 27 14 - 41
PARKERS PRAIRIE SCORING - Alex Koep - 11; Noah Koep - 10; Eli Simonson - 2; Travis Yohnke - 16; Andrew Warren - 5; Josh Helling - 16; Preston Yohnke - 1
WCA SCORING - Jacob Bright - 2; Teigen Moritz - 4; Grant Beuckens - 6; Tate Christenson - 2; Gage Staples - 16; Jack Van Kempen - 10; Blake Koloski - 1