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Boys basketball: Wrenching loss for Wrens

After a season that could only be described as magnificent, the Wrenshall Wrens saw their state tournament hopes dashed Thursday, March 15, during the Section 7A semifinals in Hibbing.

The Wrens, who finished their season 25-3, fell 73-51 to Ely in their final game of the season.

"Disappointing," Wrens coach Jon Bartczak said. "We had a great season, but both myself and the players were expecting to play the next game (the section finals)."

The Timberwolves, who went on to lose the section final 70-38 to North Woods, took a 30-22 lead at halftime thanks in part to the sharpshooting style the Wrens used for much of the season.

But in the second half, Ely pulled away thanks to a 43-point session.

The 1-2 combination of Carter Gaulke's 26 points and Pat Vanderbeek's 25, including 21 scored from beyond the arc on seven 3-pointers, was too much for the Wrens. Ely hit 10 3-point shots on the night.

Meanwhile, Wrenshall's vaunted outside game deserted them.

"We didn't shoot the ball well at all," Bartczak said. "We had six 3-pointers, but three of them were scored at the time of the game where we weren't going to come back."

Tyler Kelley led Wrenshall with 17 points, while Nick Mattson had 13 as the only Wrens in double figures.

The Wrens lost their fifth game of the season to Cromwell-Wright, and then won 15 straight games before a 64-62 loss at Silver Bay dropped them to 19-2. They then won six straight games before falling in the semifinals.

It was a testament to the Wrens' scoring power that the 51 points in the semifinal loss represented their season low. Wrenshall averaged 78 points per game this winter, with a high of 116 against Duluth Marshall on February 26. They averaged twelve three-pointers per game.

The Wrens graduate five seniors: guards Kyle Despot, Nick Mattson and Tyler Kelley, forward Wyatt Holmes and center Grant Hall. That will prove problematic.

"By my records, Tyler Kelley is the leading scorer in school history and Nick Mattson is second," Bartczak said. "That's a lot of points."

However, the team has three starters coming back, so the cupboard is far from bare.

"We need the six to seven players from the bench to step up next season," Bartczak said. "But we are optimistic."

The success of the season is even more remarkable considering that Bartczak's first Wrenshall team of four seasons ago didn't win a single game.

"Two losses in this regular season and one in the playoffs," he said. "That shows we've come a long way."

And for that progress, Bartczak credits his players.

"Even when we were losing all those games, we never got down," he said. "The kids have worked extremely hard and they've come a very long way."