Two key chances slipped away from the Vermilion Ironmen in the final seconds, and with them went their chance for a state championship.
Trailing by one, Vermilion turned the ball over with 12 seconds left and then allowed Rochester's Justyn Galloway to rebound his own missed free throw. Galloway made the most of his second opportunity, sinking two free throws to preserve a 76-73 victory Sunday afternoon at Coon Rapids.
Vermilion, which was vying for its first state junior college men's basketball title since 1999, roared back from a 15-point second-half deficit and pulled ahead 63-60 with eight minutes to go.
But Rochester (26-4), which advances to the national tournament in upstate New York, weathered the storm and took a 71-68 lead on Keiron Sauer's three-point basket with 2:50 to go. Demetrius Cady added another triple, but VCC pulled back to within 74-73 and got the ball back when Devonta Brooks rebounded a Rochester miss.
The drama built for more than four minutes Saturday night in Duluth when the Mt. Iron-Buhl Rangers and Ely Timberwolves simply stood on the floor and watched time tick off the clock.
When play finally resumed, the Rangers did just enough to hold off an improbable upset bid from the injury-riddled Wolves.
Top-seeeded MIB got 28 points from sophomore Jaylon Holmes, including 20 in the second half and the Rangers' last seven in the contest, in a 59-54 Section 7A boys basketball quarterfinal at UMD's Romano Gymnasium.
Ely, which finished 16-12, wiped out a 14-point deficit with a second-half run and led 53-50 with seven minutes left.
An MIB basket and an ensuing steal and three-point play by Holmes put the Rangers (25-3) ahead to stay, but a bizzare ending was yet to come.
The Ely Timberwolves went stumbling, sputtering and limping into the section playoffs, and not much changed for 27 minutes Thursday night.
It seemed that the rim had a cover on it for the high school basketball team, which managed only 20 first-half points and only a pair of baskets through the first nine minutes of the second stanza. Nashwauk-Keewatin, meanwhile, overcame its own offensive woes enough to use its inside game and 6-3 Marek Cobb to build a double-digit lead.
Rebuilding after a 27-2 campaign with five new starters, one wearing street clothes for the playoffs because of a season-ending injury, the final chapter of the 2014-15 season was being written on a cold night in the cavernous Hibbing Memorial Arena. It was a nice season for sure, with 15 wins and some impressive performances - including an earlier win over Nashwauk-Keewatin - but this night belonged to the Spartans.
TOURNEY CHAMPS - Ely’s seventh-grade boys basketball team scored three big victories last weekend and took first place in a tournament at Grand Rapids. The future Timberwolves beat International Falls 45-23, Hibbing 36-23 and Bemidji 50-44. Pictured are Coach Max Gantt, Emmett Faltesek (33), Will Davies (42), Dylan Fenske (10), Eric Omerza (13), Bryce Longwell (3), Brock LaTourell (14), Nils DeRemee (23), Josh Larson (21), Coach Mike Keller. Faltesek, Davies and LaTourell are sixth-graders while the remaining Wolves are in seventh grade.
A 10-point second-half deficit didn't deter the Ely Timberwolves, who mounted a furious run down the home stretch Thursday and pulled out a 48-44 high school boys basketball playoff victory over Nashwauk-Keewatin.
Sputtering on offense and struggling against the Spartans' inside game, Ely turned things around in the final nine minutes, with brothers Spencer and Carter Gaulke both sinking two three-pointers during the run.
A Carter Gaulke triple tied the game, and a free throw from Spencer, who had a team-high 15 points, put the Wolves in front to stay. Both Carter Gaulke and Evan Omerza sank key free throws in the final two minutes to secure the victory at the Hibbing Memorial Arena.
Ely, seeded fourth in the north half of Section 7A, improved to 16-11 and advanced to a Saturday night (7:30 p.m.) quarterfinal in Duluth against top-seeded Mt. Iron-Buhl (24-3), which blew out Littlefork-Big Falls 87-41.
CHAMPS - Ely Pee Wee B hockey team. Front (l-r): Tracker Koivisto, Jake Anderson, Chase Sandberg, Sawyer Klingsporn. Second Row: Justin Nyman, Sydney Richards, Sean Prigge, Luke Olson, Joey Pierce, Jason Skube, Isaac Hendrickson, Jimmy Zupancich. Third Row: Coach Jake Myers, Oskar Koivisto, Coach Eric Urbas. Not pictured: Coach Frank Udovich
ON THE GAS - Brian Seliskar runs his Arctic Cat snowmobile in the Radar Run event at the Winton Longbranch last Saturday. The event was sponsored by the Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club. Unfortunately, after the event was over, someone vandalized the rented porta-potties, burning two of them. Photo by Eric Sherman.