Unshaken: Composed Arrows take down Blackjacks 59-49 to open season

Caden Strasser pulls up for a short jumper.

Despite a plethora of frenetic action on the hardwood as well as in the stands, the Pipestone Area boys’ basketball team kept its focus and composure throughout the entire 36 minutes of Monday night’s non-conference clash with the Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks in Dawson.

And sticking with a plan that included playing with a short memory, the Arrows turned a slim 24-23 halftime lead into a 59-49 victory.

“Coach encourages us to have a ‘next play’ mentality; even if we make a mistake, it’s always on to the next play – look to make something happen,” said senior forward Caden Strasser, who finished the Arrows’ season-opening tilt with 14 points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal. “They didn’t get a lot of rebounds, and that was our emphasis – crash the boards and limit their second-chance opportunities.”

Strasser and classmates Kellen Johnson and Merrick Heidebrink certainly made things ‘happen’ on the boards in Dawson, helping the visitors earn a 43-35 edge on the glass. Johnson, who tied with D-B’s Brayson Boike for game-high scoring honors with 19 markers, tallied a double-double with 12 boards, while outside of his swish-or-dish efforts in handling the ball at the point Heidebrink finished with seven rebounds to go with his 11 points, four assists and four steals.

“We know they’re a very talented basketball team, will win a lot of games this year, but they were on the ball and ready to play a physical game from the start,” Heidebrink said. “We had a great two weeks of practice; credit all the coaches for long days of preparing us for this, in the gym and weight room, and they got us ready for these types of games – a good test for us.”

Not only did the Pipestone Area starters, which included junior guard Rysley Borman (nine points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals) and sophomore guard Tagon Woelber (six points, three rebounds, four assists), help secure rebounds at both ends of the floor, but the Arrows’ role players also took up the mantle when beckoned for.

“Absolutely, that’s the motto we’re using; at any moment we look down the line and call your jersey number, you need to be ready to go,” Pipestone Area head coach Michael Slaba said. “Guys like Makhi (Winter) and Landon Quist did a good job stepping in when we needed them to. (Colton) Pottratz gave us a good look in the first half and (Will) DeBates as well, giving Strasser a breather here and there. So, guys are going to contribute, and I’m very happy with the way we played.”

The aforementioned didn’t scratch out a single marker between them, but they combined for eight extremely important rebounds, two assists, four steals and a block during their respective minutes in the frenzied tilt.

Kellen Johnson and Landon Quist look to secure a rebound.

A tilt that saw the Arrows break loose for an 8-0 lead less than three minutes in, as Strasser’s alley-oop finish (Borman assist) around treys from Johnson and Heidebrink had Coach Larson bellowing for a respite with 15:40 remaining in the first half.

Out of the break, however, the Blackjacks promptly knotted the score at 8-all – through Boike, Aiden Swenson and Keegon Wicht (12 points).

The remainder of the opening stanza was akin to a rift battle, with each side reaching for higher notes through their soloists and harmonizers. Back-to-back buckets by one of D-B’s latter, Drew Hjelmeland, gave the Blackjacks a 23-17 lead 3:35 prior to the interval, but a second trey by the height-advantaged Johnson, combined with a three-point conversion by Strasser and 1-of-2 from the line from Woelber, sent the Arrows into the locker room with the slimmest of leads.

Although the Arrows’ 12-2 run to open the second half saw the visitors share the basketball extremely well at the offensive end of the floor, their ‘deny’ defense and one-and-done work on the boards fueled that feel-good flow.

“Numbers ‘5’ and ‘0’ (Boike and Wicht) were our points of emphasis, and I think we did our assignments well,” Heidebrink said. “Our help defense was great; we locked down when we needed to and limited their looks the best we could.”

Despite Boike enjoying spotty success from beyond the arc over the second half, as well as the host’s continued ‘hefty’ challenges in defense, the Blackjacks rarely whittled the deficit to within double digits.

“They had some pretty sizable guys, so you didn’t really have a choice… had to be physical,” Strasser said. “They (referees) let us play, but coach Slaba warned us they might try to tighten things up in the second half. So, that was our mentality going into the second half.”

Merrick Heidebrink pushes the ball up court.

Strasser and the Arrows benefitted from an intentional foul accessed to D-B in the final minute. He canned both free throws before the Arrows claimed the final possession off a Boike miss to cap their well-earned victory.

“We played pretty well against a good team,” Slaba said. “Dawson’s a really well-coached team; Coach (Cory) Larson’s been around for a while, has done a phenomenal job, and we knew they were going to be fundamentally solid. They were going to be tough defensively and knew they’d be physical. I think the biggest testament was the boys responded to that. They kind of punched us in the mouth after we had done the same to start the game, and I really like how we responded as a team – continued to play physical and work together… play within ourselves.”

Pipestone Area (1-0) will look for a similar effort Thursday night on the road in its Big South Conference opener against St. James (0-1) before returning to Pipestone for the Arrows’ home opener against BSC and area rival Luverne (0-1) Friday night.

PAS                           24 35 – 59

D-B                           23 26 – 49