The Section 2AAAA semi-finals were played last night at brand new Chanhassen High School in their beautiful new facility. The home of the Storm was more than capable of comfortably hosting the large crowds of Chaska, Shakopee, Eden Prairie, and Bloomington Jefferson. With a section final bid on the line the frontline stars took care of business with a little help from their friends.
Eden Prairie handled the Jaguars of Bloomington Jefferson 64-50. Because this was a game that opened with several sloppy turnovers the Jaguars were never truly out of the contest. However, with Brett Ervin up front scoring 18 against a smaller Jaguar front line the Eagles always had the advantage.
The most valuable players of the game may have been Mitch Hallstrom and Grayson Levine. The pair average about eight points a game combined but their positive production wasn't about point totals. The 13 Hallstrom put up and the four from Levine was almost a bonus to the team. What set the two apart was the sheer hustle and work they put in all over the floor.
Levine's assignment was commonly to guard Jefferson leading scorer (at 17.8 points a game) Marcus Alipate. Levine face-guarded the talented junior harassing Alipate for a healthy portion of the contest. With Alipate struggling to even get the ball at times Jefferson had common problems just getting good shots. Levine tailed, trailed, and denied Alipate from about a foot away with a big time effort especially late in the game. Levine limited Alipate to about four field goals under his average scoring ten for the contest.
Meanwhile, Hallstrom produced just about every hustle play you can think of. He battled inside for rebounds, he chased down loose balls, scored on putbacks, set strong screens, and pretty much gave his team the motivation to put the Jaguars away. Add in Ervin's scoring plus the combined 20 points from Grant Soderberg and Ryan Smith and you have a team with the right mix to play in next Friday's section championship game.
Who would be the opponents? Early on it looked like Shakopee as the Sabers came into the game with an outstanding game plan zoning Chaska on one end and swinging the ball furiously on the other. With Jake White up front and Ross Travis playing all over the Sabers were fearful of giving up to much in the paint. Especially considering the biggest Shakopee contributor is only 6-foot-2 a zone that collapsed on Jake White made sense.
In the first half White took only two shot attempts scoring a single field goal. With Chaska neither working the ball around the perimeter much nor passing into the high post all that was left for them was several long jumpers from the wings. Ross Travis gave the team a pretty looking pull-up, a sensational transition slam, and a three-point play powering the ball up in the middle. But outside of that Chaska got limited first half scoring production from their size. Bruce Kugath's defensive plan was working well.
On the other end the Sabers didn't get to much right away from leading scorer Jason Perkins but junior Dylan Ulferts and senior Joel Hergott did their part. Ulferts and Hergott are the second and third leading scorers for Shakopee each producing a dozen a contest.
Ulferts attacked baseline for scores showing a surprising explosive ability finishing at or near the rim. Then you have Hergott who I honestly think played every position on the floor last night. The six-footer is listed as a center in the program and he did spend time working on Jake White as well as Anthony Webber. The kid boxed out hard, spent a lot of time helping sandwich Jake White within the zone, he grabbed some boards, and hit a couple shot.
Later, with foul trouble causing problems, Hergott took over the point position. Joel ended his night scoring ten points but his contributions were way more than that. I can honestly say that I don't think I've seen a guy in state get more out of his body and athletic ability than what I saw Joel Hergott do last night. He played very well for a six foot point guard/center.
In the second the big dogs from these teams took over. With Colorado State coach Tim Miles as well as assistant Niko Medved looking on White got his offense going. Jake rebounded from the very start grabbing ten of them with two hands at the rim in the first half alone. And most of those rebounds became beautiful outlet passes and I would say that more than half of Chaska's first half offense came off of White's sharp outleting skills. Considering how bad Chaska struggled against he Shakopee zone the Hawks are lucky they had White's outlet passing to get so many transition opportunities.
Jake found his offense in half two taking over the paint with putbacks and post-ups plus he nailed a couple 16-footers and some free throws. Also stepping up his play around the basket for Chaska was Rivals 150 member Ross Travis. Travis used his superior length and quick bounce to finish plays around the cup as the small Shakopee underbelly could no longer bottle the middle up. Both Ross and Jake scored 16 points with Jake grabbing 15 rebounds and Ross totaling nine. Travis also had three incredible blocks high above the rim.
Chaska took the lead in the second half but one Jason Perkins would not go down without a fight. The Hawks solved their first half offensive problem using high post entries to get things going around the cup. That Achilles Heel had been solved but Perkins became the new one. Despite being 6-foot-2 Perkins is a wide body who uses his strength incredibly well to separate from bigs and use the space to maneuver for finishes. He scored a game high 18 points most of which came late in the second half on tough angled attempts. Jason was likely frustrated with his foul shooting late in the game but he can be proud of his effort as Perkins wouldn't let Shakopee go down without a fight.
In the end Chaska won 58-52 and will move on to face Eden Prairie in the Section 2AAAA title game. Back in January the Eagles beat Chaska 76-58 led by 23 points from Ervin and 13 from Soderberg. Game number two was closer (65-60) but yet another EP win. Chaska had Ross Travis for the first game but was without him for the second. In that second contest Ervin totaled 26 and Soderberg 13. Plus the Hawks held Jake White to 35 in the two contests that is pretty good considering White averages 22 a night. More impressive was Eden Prairie's work against the rest of the Hawks as none of White's teammates scored more than ten on the Eagles this year.