SECTION 3A TOURNAMENT: Jacob Hennen hits game-winner, lifts Vikings past Lakers

Photo by Emily Daniels Minneota’s Jacob Hennen (left) celebrates with teammate Isaac Hennen after he hit the game-winning shot against Lakeview in the Section 3A semifinals on Saturday. The Vikings defeated the Lakers 53-51 to advance to the section title game against RTR.

MARSHALL – With the score tied at 51 and just 5.5 seconds remaining, the No. 1 seed Minneota boys basketball team looked to walk away a winner while the No. 3 Lakeview Lakers looked to get one final stop and force overtime of the Section 3A semifinal game on Saturday afternoon. The Vikings inbounded the ball to Jacob Hennen, who dribbled to the free-throw line and fired a fadeaway shot that bounced around the rim, hung for a brief moment before dropping through the net as the buzzer sounded to catapult the Vikings over the Lakers and into the section championship game with a 53-51 victory.

Coming off the buzzer-beating shot, Jacob Hennen knew that it took a team effort to win over a tough Lakeview team that had knocked off Dawson-Boyd in the quarterfinal round just a couple of days prior.

“We knew that they had come off a big win and we knew that the game was going to be close, so we had to play our best game,” he said. “Isaac Hennen really carried the team in the first half and when the huge break happened between us, both teams got fired up. We need to keep working hard going into the next game and hopefully do better next time and not have the score be so close.”

The finish was the fitting punctuation of an extremely tight contest all game long, as Lakeview’s Jon Wyffels got the game started by giving the Lakers a quick 3-2 lead before the Vikings quickly responded with a 3-pointer from Isaac Hennen that put Minneota up 8-3 with 15:57 left on the clock. Lakeview fought back aggressively to the Vikings’ swift offense but Minneota held its own and continued to grow its lead to 16-5, thanks to the help of Logan Sussner who used his strong efforts under the basket.

The Vikings continued their strong start offensively, but the Lakers wouldn’t go away without a fight as Jarod Goepferich got on the board to cut it to 18-7 with 8:49 remaining in the first half. Lakeview kept finding a spark on the offensive end of its own, cutting the deficit to just five at 20-15 with 6:28 left before a pair of free throws from Kailen French and a basket from Tate Varpness made it a one-point game with 5:08 left on the clock.

The two teams would trade points over the next few possessions, with the Vikings making a few plays to put themselves back in front at 24-21. French yet again found his chance in the paint and closed the score back to a one-point gap at 24-23 but Minneota didn’t let that get in their heads as they held a two-point lead at halftime, 28-26.

Just like the first half, the tempo of the second half was no different. The Vikings would hold a one-point lead for a few minutes before Jacob Hennen found his spark on the arc and helped grow Minneota’s lead to 34-30 with 14:45 remaining in the game. The Lakers knew that if they wanted to keep themselves in the game they were going to have to be on their best game and were able to close the gap to a two-point deficit at 39-37, but the two teams would continue to trade baskets over the next few possessions.

Minneota would get a key run with a six-point spurt, but Goepferich helped momentarily stop the bleeding with a basket to make it 46-42 with 5:30 left. The score never went over a three-point gap for the remainder of the time, as the Lakers got a big pair of baskets from French, including a 3-pointer to tie up the score at 47-47 with 3:38 left to play. The score went back and forth, with Varpness tying things back up at 49-49 with 3:11 on the clock.

The Lakers would get possession of the ball and slow the pace down to take time off the clock and limit Minneota’s offensive chances. A minute went by and the score was still tied up at 49-49 until Isaac Hennen put the Vikings back in the lead at 51-49 with 1:42 remaining in the game. Lakeview would find an answer of its own to tie the game with 30 seconds to go, as the energy from both sides brought the R/A Facility life and set the stage for the final play.

Despite the loss, Lakeview coach Jared Keaveny saw it as a big step in growing the program in the future and was very happy with the way his team played against a tough team.

“A tough loss like this you never forget, hopefully the guys take that as fuel to work hard over the summer,” said Keaveny. “We talk about why we do those offseason workouts and it’s because we get to moments like these. Overall, we’re very proud of the way our guys did defensively. Our guys did everything that we could’ve asked for. It’s just sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce the right way.”

The Vikings were led by Isaac Hennen with 18 points, followed by Thomas Hennen with 13 and Jacob Hennen with 11. Minneota shot 21 of 49 for total shots and seven of eight at the free-throw line. The Lakers were led by Varpness with 17 points and followed by French with 14, Wyffels with eight and Goepferich with seven. Lakeview shot 17 of 56 for total shots and 14 of 17 at the free-throw line.

Lakeview ends its season with an 18-9 record. The Vikings move to 24-3 on the season and will take on the No. 1 South seed in Russell-Tyler-Ruthton for a spot in the Class A Tournament. A win would give Minneota its first state tournament berth in program history.

Going into the championship game against RTR, Minneota coach David Busselman knows they have to continue to be better and play a complete game if they’re going to extend their season.

“It’s a next step. We have to play the best game we’ve ever played for the next game and from here on out,” said Busselman. “We’ve played RTR once this season, but at this time we don’t really care who we play, we just want to go out there and get it. There are little things that we can do and we have a little time to prepare for that and then we will go from there.”