On a day when much of the professional and college sports landscape came to a halt due to the rapidly evolving situation surrounding the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), there were games allowed to play on at the high school level.
Section boys basketball championships took place around Minnesota. Some saw only family members of the participants allowed to attend, but that was not the case at Concordia College in Moorhead. Fans filled the seats to watch two top-10 teams in the Section 6A title game as second-ranked Henning (29-1) secured its second straight trip to the state tournament with a 57-45 win over eighth-ranked West Central Area (27-3).
“We’re just thankful we got to play 36 more minutes of basketball,” Henning senior guard Brandon Trana said. “We knew probably next week, there’s not going to be a lot of fans at the state tournament because of this. It was awesome tonight. The fans in Henning are so incredible.”
A Minnesota State High School League ruling will go into effect on Friday that will limit the number of people at tournaments to rostered participants, coaches, event staff, TV network partners, credentialed media, and a small number of school-approved spectators of each participating team. But for at least one more night this season, Concordia featured a raucous atmosphere fitting of a section championship matchup.
The Hornets got their fans energized early and often on their way to accomplishing what this group set out to do after making its memorable run to a state title a year ago.
“This was the goal the whole entire time,” Trana said. “We knew every team was going to give us their best shot throughout the whole season. We just had to keep punching and keep going.”
Henning separated itself from WCA near the end of the first half. Trana had 17 of his game-high 19 points before the break, and his three at the first-half buzzer gave the Hornets a 35-23 lead.
“I knew we needed to make some big shots,” Trana said. “Coach ran some plays for me, so I just knocked them down. We needed them. Every shot I took felt like it was going in.”
Trana came off the bench and hit five threes in the opening 18 minutes.
“We had a scouting report on him,” WCA head coach Kraig Hunter said. “We know he’s a great shooter, and our guys were supposed to run at him and make him dribble because he’s a stand-still shooter. We made a couple mistakes there, and he got hot. They’re balanced, and the end of the first half is what really killed us.”
The Knights came out in the second half on a 6-0 run of their own, but Henning had an answer all night. Parker Fraki knocked down his team’s ninth three with almost 10 minutes left to give Henning a 47-31 lead. The Knights got it back nine, but that’s all the closer they could get.
“All of them can shoot,” WCA senior forward Gage Staples said. “Then if you hedge and help, all of them are fast too, so there’s someone open all the time. They’re fast, conditioned, they get out in transition. They’re a great team.”
The Hornets put three players in double figures. Parker Fraki had 13 and Blake Wallevand added 11. Staples led the Knights with 17, while fellow senior forward Jack Van Kempen had 12.
The Hornets will now wait to see what exactly their fate is as it pertains to the state tournament. With the COVID-19 situation rapidly evolving, the MSHSL announced Thursday that plans for tournaments held after this weekend are still being developed and will be communicated at a later date by the MSHSL.
The Knights are left looking back on what will likely be remembered as the best season in program history.
“I’m really happy I was a part of it,” Staples said. “We’ve all been playing together for so long. We had a great season, and I’m happy I could play with these guys.”
Hunter huddled his team together after the game and told his players to remember the entire journey and not the sting of losing to the defending state champions.
“When you look back at the whole season, you’re going to have just incredible memories,” Hunter said. “We only had three losses, two were to the state champions and one to the eighth-ranked team in AA in Osakis...it was just a fun ride the whole time.”
Hunter is proud of the 27 wins and the first subsection championship in program history that this group won. He’s also proud of the way his guys carried themselves in putting this season together.
“Our kids are class acts,” Hunter said. “They’re very nice to other kids in our school and our community, and they represent us well...that’s what we try to do in our program is build good character and we’re proud of that with these kids. Then the level of basketball they played. These guys let us coaches push them all the time, and they got better and better all year.”
HENNING 35 22 - 57
WCA 23 22 - 45
HENNING SCORING - Parker Fraki - 13; Blake Wallevand - 11; Isaac Fisher - 8; Blaine Wallevand - 5; Brandon Trana - 19; Tanner Arndt - 1
WCA SCORING - Jacob Bright - 3; Grant Beuckens - 5; Tate Christenson - 5; Gage Staples - 17; Jack Van Kempen - 12; Brady Reeve - 3