It’s at the point in the season where section contenders are starting to come into focus, and West Central Area and Parkers Prairie are squarely in that mix in the Section 6A-South boys basketball field.
The Knights (16-2) and Panthers (15-4) met in Barrett on Tuesday night in what might be a subsection championship game preview. West Central Area certainly looked the part of a legitimate section threat in a 59-41 win.
“It means a lot. We can get the No. 1 seed a lot easier now, so it’s a big win,” WCA junior guard Grant Beuckens said. “Everybody played well tonight. Everyone contributed in a big way.”
That’s the luxury head coach Kraig Hunter has with this year’s WCA team. The Knights frequently put four players in double figures, but they didn’t get there on Tuesday. Instead, all seven players who scored for the Knights had at least five points as they shot 48% overall.
“We have confidence in all our kids,” Hunter said. “I’ve been saying that since day one. Brady Reeve and Ryder Staples have been phenomenal the last two weeks. They’re scoring in double figures (off the bench) and doing a lot of other things defensively. I consider it that we have seven starters, and we have a couple ninth-graders who can play too. We make sure not to get overconfident, but the guys know we have a lot of weapons.”
The Knights jumped out to a 16-7 lead in the first eight minutes behind four quick threes on Tuesday. They upped that number to seven triples by the half and 10 overall in the game as guys passed up good shots for better shots on the perimeter.
“I’ve been the head coach here since 1997 and the things I preach are play harder than the other team and play unselfish,” Hunter said. “I think all of our teams have done that, and these guys have carried that on. They’re very unselfish. It’s fun to see them look at each other and point to the guy who made the pass.”
Beuckens had 10 points, five rebounds and three assists. Gage Staples added 10 points and eight rebounds, while Ryder Staples and Reeve had nine points, and Jack Van Kempen added eight points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
Tate Christenson did a little bit of everything with eight points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals, while Jacob Bright finished things off with five points, four assists and four steals.
“We have 100% confidence in everybody,” Beuckens said. “Everyone is great on this team. We have so many contributors, and it’s awesome. We’ve been playing together for a long time, but now we’ve all developed into our games. It’s starting to come together.”
The Knights led 31-22 at the half, and they put the Panthers away in the opening minutes after the break. A quick 9-0 run capped off by a Christenson drive and layup made it 40-22. Parkers Prairie never got things back to single digits.
“We talk about the first four minutes of the game and the first four minutes of the second half all the time,” Hunter said. “Early in the year, we weren’t doing it so well. Now lately, we’ve been coming out in the second half and making runs. It’s really good to see our kids realizing the importance of that.”
The Panthers struggled through a 14-of-52 shooting night.
“We went through a stretch where we had mental lapses,” Parkers Prairie head coach Mike Felt said. “We left people open who shouldn’t have been left open. You do that two, three times against a good team like this, they’re going to take advantage. That was kind of the story of the beginning of the second half.”
Alex Koep was the Panthers’ lone scorer in double figures with 16, and many of those came late in the second half with the Knights in control. Parkers Prairie is still without senior forward Preston Yohnke, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since going down in a game against Brandon-Evansville on Jan. 23. Felt said the team was waiting to hear back from the doctor later this week on exactly how long Yohnke might be out.
“He’s a workhorse. He gets rebounds, is always solid, is a great defensive player,” Felt said of Yohnke. “We lose size with him too, but he’s a captain, so that’s tough to lose.”
Florian Koep had eight points for the Panthers, and Micah Arens and Brandon Johnson both had six on a night when shots were hard to come by for Parkers Prairie. The Panthers are still positioned to grab the second seed in the 6A-South field if they continue to win games down the stretch. They would like to get another shot at the Knights in the playoffs.
“We just have to take care of the ball a little bit better,” Felt said. “(WCA) is very active defensively, and they get in passing lanes. If we can take care of the ball a little bit better and make some of the open shots we missed tonight, it might be a little bit tighter outcome.”
The Knights’ numbers get more impressive by the game as they are now beating teams by an average of nearly 23 points-per contest. WCA gives up 47.8 points per night and averages a subsection-best 70.5 themselves.
West Central Area was 15-10 a year ago, and most of the guys responsible for that are back and performing at a higher level this winter.
“Last year, we had lots of competition and lots of good teams around here,” Beuckens said. “I think that just helped us develop, and made us handle the pressure better. We have poise in close games. Everyone looks like they’ve matured now.”
With 16 wins already under their belt, the Knights are trending in the right direction with eight games left in the regular season.
“They know every game is as important as the last one,” Hunter said. “They’re all important, so it’s a big win because we were No. 1 and 2 in the subsection, but if you lose another game then this one doesn’t matter. You need to keep it rolling.”
WEST CENTRAL AREA
TOTALS - WCA - FG - 24-50; Three-point FG - 10-23; FT - 1-2; Rebounds - 36; Parkers Prairie - FG - 14-52; Three-point FG - 6-27; FT - 7-8; Rebounds - 30; Turnovers - 14
WCA - Grant Beuckens - 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists; Gage Staples - 10 points, 8 rebounds; Ryder Staples - 9 points; Brady Reeve - 9 points; Jack Van Kempen - 8 points, 10 rebounds; Tate Christenson - 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals; Jacob Bright - 5 points, 4 assists, 4 steals
PARKERS PRAIRIE SCORING - Alex Koep - 16; Florian Koep - 8; Micah Arens - 6; Brandon Johnson - 6; Rylee Thoennes - 3; Josh Helling - 2