Knights left looking back on another standout season after Hancock wins defensive battle in OT

A Grant Beuckens jumper for West Central Area tied the subsection championship game in Hancock in the final minute of regulation, but the Owls made six free throws and clamped down defensively to get the win and move on to the 6A title game against the top-ranked team in the state.

West Central Area senior Tate Christenson pulls up for a jump shot during the first half of the Section 6A-South championship game in Hancock on Wednesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

On paper, Hancock and West Central Area were two of the best defensive teams in the South half of the Section 6A field all season. With that subsection championship on the line on Wednesday, both teams proved that on the court.

Shots were hard to come by for both programs, but Knights’ senior guard Grant Beuckens got a big one on a pull-up jump shot from the elbow. Beuckens has made a living hitting that pull-up jumper his whole career, and this one tied the game at 40 apiece with 34.5 seconds left.

West Central Area senior Grant Beuckens pulls up for a jump shot in overtime against Hancock on Wednesday night. Beuckens hit a jumper with 34.5 seconds left that forced overtime after tying the game at 40 apiece. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The two teams went into overtime where Hancock won the tip from 6-foot, 8-inch Matt Thompson before Thompson got the ball back on the ensuing possession. He got fouled and made two free throws. It was part of six shots the Owls (16-5) made from the charity stripe in overtime to secure a 46-40 win and move on to the Section 6A championship game on Friday night against Class A’s top-ranked Mahnomen-Waubun (21-0).


“What I told them in the locker room is that I’m extremely proud of them no matter what happened this game,” WCA head coach Kraig Hunter said. “Over the last two years we were 42-8. We have two conference championships. We have a subsection championship and a runner-up. There are 100-and-some Class A teams at home that wish they could be here. Hancock played well.”

Thompson is a difficult challenge for every team with his size and athleticism, and he finished with a game-high 18 points. Knights’ senior center Brady Reeve matched him much of the night as he finished with 16, including 13 in the first half that kept WCA within one at the break.

Hancock junior Matt Thompson gets free for a shot in the lane against the Knights on Wednesday. Thompson had a game-high 18 points in helping the Owls to the win. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“Matt is one of the top players, probably the top player in the section,” Reeve said. “Our whole team wanted to take it at him and if we can get him in foul trouble, great. The whole goal was to try to get something started right away and try to get a lead.”

The Owls held the biggest advantage of the game with an eight-point lead early in the second half, but WCA got a three from Reeve and a layup from Beuckens to get right back in it.

The Knights’ Ryder Staples made a layup and got fouled with less than a minute to play. He missed a free throw that would have tied it, but Hancock went 1-of-2 from the line to keep it at a two-point game and set up the tying shot from Beuckens.

With how good both teams were defensively, Hunter knew the first points of overtime would be important. Having Thompson’s length to win the tip proved to be big.


West Central Area senior Brady Reeve knocks down one of his three first-half threes on Wednesday night in Hancock in the Section 6A-South championship game. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Knights never did score in the four-minute overtime, as the Owls’ Adam Shaw knocked down three free throws and Brandon Kellenberger hit another one to secure the win.

“Both teams played great defense,” Hunter said. “That’s what we hang our hat on...They played great defense too, which we knew they would.”

The Knights lost three starters from a year ago in Gage Staples, Jack Van Kempen and Jacob Bright who were huge pieces of a 27-3 team. It was on this year’s group to prove they could still compete against the best teams on their schedule.

“We take a lot of pride in it. We knew coming into this season it was going to be different,” Reeve said. “They were three of the top players on our team, but we knew we could repeat. We wanted to show the whole section that we can do it. Just because we lost guys didn’t mean we were going to fall off a ton.”

West Central Area head coach Kraig Hunter directs his team from the bench during the first half on Wednesday night in Hancock. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)


The Knights did prove it on the court. They racked up a 15-5 record that included tying Hancock for the Pheasant Conference championship at 7-1 in league play. The Knights also have the memory of knocking off one of the best teams in the state in Ashby (19-1) on March 20 during the section quarterfinals.

Those accomplishments and the way this team came together is what Hunter wanted his guys to remember about this season.

“The three guys we lost last year were incredible basketball players,” Hunter said. “Our seniors and (junior) Ryder (Staples) stepped up to be main guys. Then our five through eight guys at the beginning of the year were a little shaky. By the end of the year, we won seven in a row at one point and beat the No. 2 team in the state. I was really proud of that growth.”

HANCOCK 23 17 6 - 46

WCA 22 18 0 - 40

HANCOCK SCORING - Kody Berget - 7; Brandon Kellenberger - 7; Preston Rohloff - 9; Adam Shaw - 3; Matt Thompson - 18; Jackson Koehl - 2

WCA SCORING - Ryder Staples - 6; Jacob Strunk - 5; Grant Beuckens - 10; Tate Christenson - 3; Brady Reeve - 16


Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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