Winless Wrenshall beats Carlton in playoffsStanding at the free-throw line after making a bucket inside to tie the score late in Tuesday’s playoff game, Wrenshall sophomore Mark Mallon was well-aware that he was about to take his team’s biggest shot of the year. He then calmly sank the shot and soon after, the Wrens won.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Standing at the free-throw line after making a bucket inside to tie the score late in Tuesday’s playoff game, Wrenshall sophomore Mark Mallon was well-aware that he was about to take his team’s biggest shot of the year.
He then calmly sank the shot and soon after, the Wrens won.
It was Mallon’s clutch freebie that eventually became the game-winner, as the Wrenshall boys basketball team earned its first victory of the year by upsetting clear favorite Carlton 53-51 in a Section 7A boys basketball play-in game in Carlton.
“The guys were pretty pumped after he made it,” said Wrenshall coach Joel Swanson. “But we still knew we had to play defense.”
They did exactly that. Soon after Mallon’s old-fashioned three-point play – which gave the Wrens a 52-51 lead with roughly 28 seconds left – the Wrens tightened up defensively. Carlton’s leading-scorer, Erik Adams, got a good look at the basket, but his jumper rimmed out during the tense moments.
Following the miss and a rugby-like scrum for the ball, the Bulldogs turned the ball over and sophomore Pat Gustafson added a free-throw for the Wrens, who, by that point, knew the team’s first victory was in the bag.
“I’m just so happy for our guys,” said Swanson. “It was a pretty hostile environment in there, but we got a win in Carlton – at their place. We got baskets when we needed them and the boys just stuck to the game plan.”
That plan was to play hard and win. In their previous two meetings with their ultimate small-town rival, Wrenshall had been stagnant in all aspects of the game. In a 20-point January defeat, they lost the historic Brown Jug, while a 27-point loss in Carlton in early February was deflating for the Wrens.
“We were sleepwalking that night,” said Swanson. “But tonight I think we really set the tone early and worked hard. Our defense was intense, our offense was tough and no one got rattled down the stretch. This one was a lot of fun.”
Carlton coach Carl Grussendorf knew Wrenshall would be ready to go.
“We were prepared and knew that it was going to be a tough one, no question,” he said. “It was tight, but I give Joel and those guys credit. They pulled it out.”
According to Grussendorf, his eighth-seeded Bulldogs went back and forth with the ninth-ranked Wrens throughout the night, as neither squad led by more than four points. He explained his boys controlled the lead until Mallon’s late heroics.
“If you wanted to see a battle, that was it,” said Grussendorf, whose Bulldogs finished the year at 5-20. “Either team could have won that one. It’s always tough to beat a team three times in a year and this loss is tough all the way around, but we had a successful season. I wouldn’t trade our guys for anyone. They’re great kids and they battled tonight.”
Sophomore Lane Empson led the Bulldogs with 12 points, followed by Kodie Peterson, Mat Lund and Erik Adams with nine apiece.
For the Wrens, Brett Johnson and Derek Duncan led the way with 13 points each, followed by Pat Gustafson with 11. Swanson also said that both Jack Dolter and sophomore Matt O’Connor got after it defensively for the Wrens, setting the tempo early.
“What were we? Zero-for-20,” said Swanson. “In all my years coaching, I’ve never gone a season without winning at least one game. But tonight these guys stuck with it. This was a good bonding experience for us.”
Tuesday, it was finally the Wrens’ time.
Wrenshall (1-21) will now take on top-seed and section favorite Lakeview Christian Academy, standing 25-1, Thursday evening at Lincoln High School in Esko.
But now that it’s March, the madness is here – and anything can happen in the postseason.