Comprehensive: Pipestone Area boys power past Eagles, ease by Saints in early-season contests

By Kevin Kyle | Sports Editor

Pipestone Area junior wing Kellen Johnson rises fro two of his game-high 18 points versus the Southwest Christian Eagles Thursday night in Edgerton. K. Kyle

It’s been a while. 

The 2017-18 season saw the Pipestone Area Arrows beat the Southwest Christian Eagles twice; a 15-point victory in their first meeting at home and a tight 65-64 win in Edgerton.

Still, the Arrows’ 58-39 non-conference boys’ basketball victory over the Eagles Thursday night in Edgerton was the most comprehensive in recent seasons. The Arrows (2-1) were simply better than the Eagles (2-1) in every aspect of the game; from shooting to rebounding, from defending to scoring, the visitors dominated.

“I think we did; and to be honest, it wasn’t our best defensive half or game,” Pipestone Area head coach Todd Tinklenberg said. “We were able to make defensive adjustments, and the biggest part was rebounding. We dominated on the boards, which meant they (SWC) didn’t get second shots; it meant we could make a mistake here and there and still be able to cover ourselves.”

The Arrows’ dominance on the glass saw them pull down 10 more rebounds than their hosts (36-26) and limited the Eagles to just three offensive rebounds. Conversely, the Arrows garnered eight second-chance opportunities – converting half of them.

“We knew it was going to be a good game, a packed gym, loud and tight in there,” noted Pipestone Area senior guard Connor Zephier, who finished with 11 points, five steals, two assists. “We talked about having three big guys on the court at all times, getting hands to the ball and getting tips. We came in thinking Micah Schaap (14 points) and Carter Van Hulzen would be their two shooters and we were focusing on them to start the game.”

And the aforementioned Eagle duo Schaap had the majority of touches for the hosts in the early stages of the first half. Unfortunately for the SWC and its faithful, Pipestone Area was up to the task in its defensive sets and promptly built a 10-point lead (13-3) with a barrage of offensive activity that left the Eagles flustered. Kaden Musch (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists, four steals) converted with a putback seven minutes, 13 seconds into the half to open the double-digit lead, and Zephier’s pair from the foul line on the Arrows’ ensuing foray down the floor made it a 12-point game.

Pipestone Area junior Connor Holt stands up Southwest christian senior Micah Schaap in the first half Thursday night in Edgerton. K. Kyle.

SWC responded by going long, scoring 15 of 17 points from beyond the arc nine minutes prior to the interval. Cole Walhof (seven points), Van Hulzen (seven points, eight rebounds) and Dawson Rieck (11 points) each had at least one trey in the first half, and the latter knocked down three consecutive bombs to help the hosts momentarily whittle the deficit down to single digits.

Kellen Johnson, who would emerge as the game’s high scorer with 18 points, six rebounds and two blocks, aided the Arrows in remaining on top. Stringing together a trey, a deuce and an assist on Jaden Lorang’s layup conversion prevented the Eagles from enjoying an outright run, and the ensuing combination play of Lorang and Musch kept the Eagles from moving fluidly in transition. 

A Connor Holt putback basket pushed the Arrows’ lead back to seven points inside four minutes remaining in the half. Two shorter efforts from Johnson and Lorang, around a 3-pointer from Zephier, upped the ante back to double digits (34-20) before the break. Lorang’s layup came off a slick backdoor pass from Merrick Heidebrink (eight points, three rebounds, five assists), who would figure highly in the second half with similar incursions behind the SWC defense.

 “In practice, you just dribble at a guy and it’s an automatic backdoor situation; if it’s not there, you reverse it and look for something else,” said the PAS junior guard. “All of their wings were overplaying, so we’d just go at them. It’s just a little eye contact … dribble at them, catch their eye and, boom, go. And it creates a lot more options when we get it in the paint.”

Despite a three-pointer from Cody Van’t Hof to open the second half, the Eagles never managed to trim the lead to fewer than double digits. Maddox Biever (four points, five rebounds, block, two assists) answered Van’t Hof’s bucket with a dribble-drive hoop before Johnson took command for the Arrows inside and outside. The junior drained a shot from beyond the arc and followed with a pair of interior buckets off pin-point passes from Zephier and Musch. Heidebrink added a trey from the top of the key, and the Arrows had a 46-29 lead with 12:12 remining in the tilt.

“We knew we had to make an adjustment to cover Dawson Rieck; we did that and went on from there,” Zephier said. 

Southwest Christian’s Dawson Rieck pulls up from beyond the arc in the first half Thursday night in Edgerton. K. Kyle

‘From there’ included picking apart an overplaying defense that regularly bit on Heidebrink’s pacey dribble. Thrice the junior bounced a precise backdoor pass to a cutting teammate, and a stretch of three consecutive buckets tallied in this manner lifted the hosts to a 52-29 lead with 10:16 to play.

“We really had some nice backdoor cuts for some easy layups in that second half,” Tinklenberg said. “We got impatient at times, but you’re right, we were better in every aspect of game tonight – improved a lot from Tuesday night. I think you’re going to see we’re a good defensive team and a pretty good offensive team.”

The Arrows continued to share the ball extremely well over the remaining 10 minutes, and Johnson was the recipient of more than a few superb feeds from Heidebrink and Musch in the closing stages. SWC tried to make the most of its trips to the foul line, but even there, the Arrows held the edge by game’s end – hitting 75 percent to the Eagles’ 35.7 percent.

Other final stats painted the remainder of the Arrows’ triumph. PAS finished with a total field goal percentage of 46.2, to SWC’s 36.8, and despite Rieck’s hot hand from downtown (44.4 percent), the Arrows’ overall 3-point percentage (7-of-19) was 6.8 percent better than the Eagles (6-of-20). 

From 2-point range, the Arrows 51.5 percent was well above that of the Eagles (44.4), which – combined with the discrepancy on the boards – made for an uphill battle by the home side.

“We played great offense and great team defense; it’s a loud gym and we struggled with communication at times, but kept our composure,” said Lorang. “I think it helped that we played a close game in Redwood on Tuesday, because some of us needed to get the jitters out and a close game does that.”

“We were up at halftime in that one, too,” added Zephier. “And we said, ‘this is where we were on Tuesday … gotta lock it down in the second half here.’ We knew they’re going to be shooting and giving us pressure, but we played our game, controlled the tempo and took it to them.”

And a beaming Tinklenberg was equally thrilled at how well his Arrows responded after losing a tight game in Redwood Falls.

“I thought, in some aspects, we played better in Redwood; offensively, we moved better … thought we were a little bit stagnant at times tonight,” he said. “We’re still finding our identity as a team, and individually. I played Kellen more at a ‘5’ in Redwood, setting screens away and playing with his back to the basket more; tonight, I put him at a ‘4,’ so he was freer to go outside, read it and shoot a couple ‘3s’ … isolate down in the low block or cut and screen, and I think he’s gaining some confidence. Biever gained some confidence tonight and our guards were ‘on’ the whole game. 

“I think we showed that we’re not one dimensional at all. We didn’t shoot the ‘3’ extremely well tonight, but we’re going to get nights where we hit a lot of them … Connor and Jaden, Lorang, Kellen, Biever 4-5 guys who can shoot pretty well. We have Connor Holt and Kaden there for the mid-range, Caden Strasser too, and they’re all learning how to play their roles. Pretty soon, all the little pieces will fill in, and everybody will know they’ll get theirs.”

PAS                             34 24 – 58

SWC                           20 19 – 39

PAS 70, St. James 46

The Arrows continued to hunker down defensively, while working toward a more well-rounded attack Saturday at home. 

The final game of the truncated Big South Conference Showcase in Pipestone, the hosts demonstrated just how stingy they can be.

“We did; two very strong defensive ball games the last two nights,” Tinklenberg said. “They love playing ‘D,’ going full court, and I thought offensively we clicked for 32 of the 36 minutes … played very well.”

After limiting the Southwest Christian Eagles to a mere 20 at the break Thursday night in Edgerton, the Arrows kept the visiting Saints wanting Saturday night, as well, giving up just 17 points over the first 18 minutes.

“That first half was unbelievable, defensively,” Tinklenberg said. “You know they’re (Saints) going to make a run, come out of halftime with a lot of energy. We didn’t match that energy, called a timeout and went back to that full court press … needed to get 4-6 steals and get focused back in. We did and we went on from there.”

Pipestone Area junior Merrick Heidebrink tosses up a successful runner in the first half Saturday night in Pipestone. K. Kyle

The Saints looked to Hayden Jones early and often in the second half, and the senior obliged with six of his game-high 22 points. Combined with strong penetration from Alex Streseman (eight points) and a bucket from Steven Balbuena (eight points) the Saints appeared poised to make a game of it – trailing 41-28 with 12 minutest to play.

However, Zephier, who spearheads the press with Musch, took care of much of the offense for the hosts too. The senior guard finished with 21 points, including five of the Arrows’ nine three-pointers in the contest, five assists and three steals. Biever (10 points) and Breylon Kuiper (six points, two rebounds, steal) posted the other treys on the night – via a pair each – but it was Zephier’s defense and trey out of the timeout that righted the Arrows’ flight seven minutes into the second half.

“We had some nice contributions from bench; it was a great team win, with every one of them doing their role,” Tinklenberg said. “Connor stepped up, hit some big shots for us, and Merrick (nine points, four assists) did a great job at the point.”

Lorang finished with eight points, four rebounds, and three steals, while Kellen Johnson added six points, three rebounds and two assists. Musch tallied four points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists, and Holt posted four points to go with five rebounds. Strasser had two blocks and a rebound in limited action and Cole Paulson capped the game with a putback bucket.

Although still working on ‘finding’ themselves, the Arrows will have to play to their current best in order to finish out their pre-holiday schedule on the front foot. 

“We have Windom Tuesday night (Dec. 14) before playing Jackson (JCC) and Dawson-Boyd Tuesday and Thursday,” Tinklenberg said. “Those will be very good games for us, good tests; if we play like we did tonight, share the ball like we did and play tough defense, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

St. James                   17 29 – 46

PAS                             38 32 – 70