Two programs separated by less than 20 miles played for a little bit of school history on Friday night in the Section 6A title game.
A win for Henning at the University of Minnesota-Morris would mean just the third trip to state for the Hornets and the first since 1966. The Panthers? They had never won a section championship. Through 32 minutes on Friday night, it looked like Parkers Prairie was going to get the monkey off its back before Henning stormed back to win a 60-58 game.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Parkers Prairie forward Travis Yohnke said. “We knew their intensity and quickness was going to be a key factor in this game. We matched it for most of the game, and at the end, they just outworked us.”
Henning (28-1) trailed almost the entire night. The Panthers (24-5) led 8-0 early and 52-44 with 4:30 left. That’s when the Hornets started pressuring all over the court.
They created multiple turnovers in the closing minutes, including on a Sam Fisher steal and layup that tied it at 53. Then after a Panthers’ free throw, Isaac Fisher gave the Hornets their first lead of the night at 55-54 with 2:02 left.
“We just had to keep going,” Sam Fisher said after finishing with a game-high 24 points. “We always have a run in us and we just kept going.”
Both Isaac and Sam Fisher knocked down some big free throws in the closing minutes to keep Henning in front. With 1.9 seconds left, the Panthers had one last chance on an inbounds under their basket. Yohnke, a senior with more than 1,700 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career, got a look at a mid-range jump shot from the corner that caromed a little long off the rim as Henning players and fans exploded onto the court in celebration.
“It was lined up good,” Yohnke said. “It felt good. I knew I was either going to overshoot it or it was going to go in. It got a bad bounce and went over.”
For the Hornets, it was special not only for what it meant to this program to return to state for the first time in more than 50 years. These Henning players lost a teammate in Jacob Quam to a car accident a few years ago. They held his No. 33 jersey high as they celebrated the win.
“He was always a big part of this team,” Sam Fisher said. “He’s still with us.”
Coming into Friday’s game, Parkers Prairie was the only team to have beaten the Hornets. That came in a 77-74 overtime game on Feb. 26.
The Panthers’ size with Yohnke, juniors Josh Helling and Preston Yohnke and senior Andrew Warren caused the Hornets fits for much of the night on Friday. Travis Yohnke had 21 points, and the four Parkers Prairie bigs combined for 43 points overall. That allowed the Panthers to answer every Hornets run through 32 minutes.
Henning finally flipped the script by upping its aggressiveness on defense. There were points during that stretch where the Panthers took some contact with no calls. Travis Yohnke said there were fouls not called, but that it was on them as players to play through that.
“We need to be stronger than that,” he said. “That’s on us.”
Parkers Prairie head coach Mike Felt credited Henning for doing what it had to do to win the game.
“That’s just the way the game goes,” Felt said. “The refs, I thought they did a good job. They made calls on both teams, and that’s just the way basketball goes. They did a good job. Both teams played hard, and one team is going to win and one team has to lose.”
Felt was proud of the way his guys played all night. The Panthers came in winners of 19 of their last 20 games. They played like the better team for long stretches of Friday’s contest.
“A couple bounces the other way, and we’re out there celebrating,” Felt said. “They played hard. I just thanked the seniors for working their tails off for me all year. They’re a great group of guys, the whole team. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of guys.”
Parkers Prairie was left looking back on a third-straight 20-win season. The Panthers have won 68 games during that stretch. Yohnke and Felt were both proud of how this year went despite the disappointment of missing out on the program’s first trip to state by just two points.
The Panthers will graduate five seniors in Grant Euteneuer, Noah Koep, Eli Simonson, T. Yohnke and Warren. There are some big shoes to fill there, but Yohnke is confident this program can keep knocking on the door of a section title.
“Eventually, we got to break that curse,” he said. “With Felt at head coach, Tim (Andresen) an assistant, (Andrew McDaniel), they’re good coaches. They know what to do and we got a lot of good young guys coming up. They’ll keep things rolling in the next few years.”
PARKERS PRAIRIE 26 32 - 58
HENNING 21 39 - 60
PARKERS PRAIRIE SCORING - Alex Koep - 9; Noah Koep - 6; Travis Yohnke - 21; Andrew Warren - 9; Josh Helling - 7; Preston Yohnke - 6
HENNING SCORING - Lee Bjorklund - 3; Parker Fraki - 2; Blake Wallevand - 9; Isaac Fisher - 13; Sam Fisher - 24; Dylan Trana - 3; Adam Lange - 6