Heading into its second successive tilt without senior center Kellen Johnson, due to his upcoming participation in the 2022 (MFCA) Minnesota High School Football All-Star Game, the Pipestone Area boys’ basketball team was surprisingly confident in tipping off against the Luverne Cardinals Friday night in Pipestone.
And why not, the Arrows (3-0) dispatched the St. James Saints with relative ease Thursday evening in St. James to kick off their Big South Conference schedule, doing so with a squad full of talent – seasoned and raw.
And though the same pair of veteran guards, senior Merrick Heidebrink and junior Rysley Borman, led the Arrows in scoring, for the second straight outing, the role players once again proved the difference in the host’s 75-57 BSC victory.
“It feels good; Monday was a little rough for me, but my teammates and coaches believe in me and that helped me get my confidence back,” said Borman, who tallied a team-high 27 points to go with four assists and a steal. “Not having Kellen in our lineup is a big loss, but we’ve had three sophomores stepping up for us. Landon’s (Quist) been huge for us, Makhi’s (Winter) been big off the bench and Tagon’s (Woelber) played well as a starter – not easy being so young and given so much responsibility. They’ve done very well.”
And it didn’t hurt having wing Breylon Kuiper back in the lineup after missing the opening pair of tilts. The senior added firepower and vision from the flanks, hitting 3-of-5 treys (11 total points) and dishing out a pair of assists in his role within the cooperative.
“This is one of those teams where it’s going to be a collective effort every night; they gelled really well tonight and it’s a tribute how far they’ve come along in these first three games,” Pipestone Area head coach Michael Slaba said. “Breylon did a good job tonight; he’s a smart player, so he knows where to be – in the right spots at the right times. We’re going to use his abilities here as we move through the season.”
Kuiper’s three-pointers were a small part of the perimeter attack on the evening, as the Arrows shot 52.6 percent from beyond the arc. Heidebrink (23 points, five rebounds eight assists, three steals) was 3-of-7 from distance, while Borman finished 4-of-5 in the range – opening the tilt with a bomb from the left corner.
“We figured they’d play zone and we adjusted to that zone, found open gaps so a lot of our shooters could sit out on the wings,” Borman said. “Attacking the middle of their zone really freed those guys up.”
Both Borman and Heidebrink demonstrated their vision and ability to either drive or pull up depending on what the Cardinals offered. The latter, perhaps the shortest player on the hardwood on the night, controlled the tilt from the point from the opening tipoff and proved fearless in the lane as well as from distance.
“Merrick is an incredible point guard; he reminds me of a kid I knew once,” said Slaba with a wink. “He does a really good job with everything, a true captain on and off the floor, and it’s a true pleasure to coach him.
“He’s one of those guys I can trust with a lot of things and, at times, when he sees something I don’t see, I fully trust him to take those opportunities. He understands that and he has a high confidence level in taking charge.”
And with an eager and youthful supporting cast, either starting or poised to enter the tilt off the bench, the Arrows rarely appeared flustered or out of sync. Quist (four points, six rebounds, assist) was a strong initial fill-in for Johnson in the opening stanza and his easy layup off a slick no-look pass from Kuiper four minutes into the game helped keep the Cardinal defense scrambling. Heidebrink followed with a trey from the left side and Caden Strasser’s ensuing bucket off a Winter (three points, assist) assist put the hosts on top 15-11.
The Cardinals managed to knot the score at 15-all through Carter Sehr (12 points) and Gannon Ahrendt (team-high 19 points), but that was as close as Luverne would come to overtaking the Arrows over the remaining 29 minutes of the game.
“Our plan, going in, was to stop Gannon and #5 (Carter Sehr), who is also a good shooter,” Borman said. “Gannon finished with 19 points… were able to score their points, but we held them both pretty well and didn’t let them put up huge numbers.”
The Arrows bolstered their garrison with fresh legs late in the first half, transitioning off steals and solid rebounding to claim a seven-point (35-28) lead at the interval.
A quick bucket from Sehr, combined with 5-of-6 free throws – granted through ill-advised reach-in fouls committed by the hosts – saw Luverne make a strong move toward quivering the Arrows in the early stages of the second half. However, a brief respite, in the form of a 30-second timeout, requested by Slaba, aided the hosts in regaining control.
“We were talking about getting back to us,” he said. “We were straying away from what we were doing… straying from us. We had to find ourselves; our pace on offense and our communication in defense. Sometimes when we get a little tired, we get quiet and stop communicating. So, it was a quick reminder to get back to our principles and what we wanted to be doing out there.”
And Heidebrink again took full advantage of Slaba’s trust, setting up two identical opportunities from himself off the dribble. After slipping past Anthony Seltta for a lofted runner in the lane, Heidebrink beat Brennan Kem to the same spot for a second succussive floater – lifting the Arrows to a 47-37 lead.
Strong interior defense by Quist, junior post Will DeBates and Strasser (four points, block) continued to force Ahrendt and company outside, where Winter, Woelber, Borman and Heidebrink were quick to halt the Cardinals’ dribble.
The Arrows’ 17-8 run midway through the period all but sent the Cardinals packing. Seven different PAS players tallied markers during the march, capped by Kuiper’s third trey of the tilt. Heidebrink added a steal-and-conversion that featured a behind-the-back finish off the dribble, and the Arrows were having fun – up 67-51 with 3:46 left on the clock.
“It was awesome; everyone feeds off one another and we’re really connected as a team,” he said. “We’re very supportive of each other… hit a shot and it’s, ‘good shot, keep shooting big dog.’ This whole team is that way, from the starters to the last one on the end of the bench; we’re all there for each other.
“With Kellen out again, it was a next-man-up mentality, and everyone was ready for that challenge. They’re not trying to do too much, but just get out there and play a role. Our coaches have done an incredible job; credit to all our coaches and players.”
Freshman guard Cayden Zephier, one of several youngsters to enter the tilt in the closing minutes, tallied a pair of free throws to cap the victory.
Weather permitting, Pipestone Area will travel to Edgerton Tuesday night (Dec. 13) for its annual rivalry contest with Southwest Christian, before hosting Fairmont, Dec. 22.
Luverne 28 29 – 57
PAS 35 40 – 75
PAS 77, St. James 63
Despite a rough first half, the Arrows opened their Big South Conference schedule with a comfortable victory over the Saints Thursday night in St. James.
Borman (three rebounds, four assists, three steals) and Heidebrink (three rebounds, seven assists) paced the Arrows’ offense with 25 and 23 points, respectively, while Winter added a hard-fought 12 points to go with four rebounds, and two assists and a steal.
Woelber was solid off the dribble and on the glass, finishing with six points and six rebounds, and Strasser had three rebounds to go with his seven points versus the Saints.
DeBates tallied four points and two boards in battling in the paint, while Quist pulled down four rebounds to go with his three markers. Nolan Stark finished with a late rebound for the Arrows.
PAS 23 54 – 77
SJ 30 33 – 63
R-T-R 67, Canby 39
The Knights improved to 2-0 on the season with a Camden Conference victory over the Lancers Monday night in Tyler.
No stats were available at the time the Star went to press.
R-T-R 72, Lakeview 60
The Knights kicked off their 2022-23 boys’ basketball campaign with a Camden Conference victory over the Lakers Friday night in Cottonwood.
Drew Werkman posted a team-high 22 points to go with seven rebounds, while Hayden Gravley added 13 markers, six boards and three assists.
Cody Wichmann (five rebounds) and Aiden Wichmann (four assists, three blocks) finished with 12 points apiece, and Blake Christianson and Camden Hansen added seven and four points, respectively.
R-T-R will tip off against The Sting of Yellow Medicine East in conference action Thursday night in Granite Falls.