Boys basketball: Knupp, Raptors down WolfpackThe Raptors made it look easy at times against their cross-town rival Park in the two teams’ first head-to-head meeting of the year on Friday night in Cottage Grove, beating the Wolfpack 76-50.
By: Patrick Johnson, sports editor, Woodbury Bulletin
Off a lackluster effort in a Suburban East Conference loss to Stillwater, East Ridge wasn’t about to have another letdown.
The Raptors made it look easy at times against their cross-town rival Park in the two teams’ first head-to-head meeting of the year on Friday night in Cottage Grove, beating the Wolfpack 76-50.
“The word all week was intensity,” East Ridge head coach Paul Virgin said. “For the first time all year, we felt like we didn’t give an honest effort against Stillwater. Credit them, they have a good team, but I think all of our players didn’t have the right frame of mind or give their best effort on Tuesday. So, we worked very hard about bringing our ‘A’ game every night and I think we did a better job of that tonight.”
East Ridge (13-3; 7-2 SEC) was up by as many as 24 points in the first half against Park (2-14; 0-9 SEC) and led 44-20 at the break. In the second half, East Ridge went up 31 points (62-31) with 8 minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the game, before Park made a late run to slice into the Raptors’ lead.
In the second half, the Wolfpack went on a 12-0 run to make it a 62-43 game with 5:32 left to play. But, that’s as close as Park would get. Park turned the ball over 26 times in the game, compared to East Ridge’s nine giveaways.
The Raptors now hold a 7-0 advantage in the two teams’ all-time series. The loss was Park’s 67th straight in conference play, dating back to the 2008-09 season – the year before East Ridge opened.
“We really struggled against Stillwater as a team, so we all just wanted to play more as a team and bounce back so we can get ready for White Bear and Woodbury,” East Ridge junior Jake Knupp said. “We knew this was kind of like the Superbowl to them, because we’re the cross-town rivals. We knew they’d play hard and it’d be a tough place to play, but we came out just as hard.”
Knupp led all scorers in the game with 19 points, including 13 points in the first half. He was 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
“My shots were on,” he said. “I was getting some good arc on it and draining them.”
In all, 12 different players scored for the Raptors in the game. In addition to Knupp, senior center Conrad Sexe has 11 points and juniors Brad Bolton, Xavier Cole and Parker Moquist each had seven points. East Ridge’s starters, in particular, Sexe, junior forward Brian Ishola and sophomore point guard Sid Tomes spent a lot of time on the bench in the game.
“You can’t mimic a real game situation in practice,” Virgin said. “That experience for some of those players is invaluable. With all these young guys we feel like we can make a run at it this year, but that we also have some things in place for the future.”
Seven different players scored for Park in the game. Sophomore forward Connor Kvendru led the way with 17 points and junior Ryan Klika scored 15 points. Sophomore Aaron Gorres scored six points, but missed the majority of the second half after suffering an injury fighting for a loose ball.
Despite their distinctly different records, both East Ridge and Park possess youthful rosters this season. Park has just two seniors on the team, forward Mike Broskoff and guard Trocon Barclay, along with six juniors and six sophomores. Just two seniors play for East Ridge, which has 10 juniors, four sophomores and one freshman on the team.
“(Park) always plays very hard and their kids are well-coached,” Virgin said. “I don’t debate that we are probably man-for-man a little better than them. They’re young, but we’re young too. We’re stuggling with that too – what it means to play varsity basketball. The thing now is to start ramping it up for the playoffs. Ultimately we want to be playing our best basketball in March.”
With the win over Park, East Ridge rebounded from a 68-60 loss at home to Stillwater on Tuesday. In the game, East Ridge led by 3 points at the half, but was outscored 41-30 in the second half.
Stillwater (11-4; 6-3 SEC) made 22 of 29 free throws in the game, compared to East Ridge, which made 6 of 9.
“That stat just reinforces how we played without any intensity against Stillwater,” Virgin said. “I think the boys have learned what it takes to play in the SEC game in and game out.”
In the loss, Knupp had a team-high 23 points, Ishola scored 10 points and Sexe had eight rebounds.
Against East Ridge, Park fared far better than it did against its other intra-district rival, Woodbury, which beat the Wolfpack by 47 points, 72-25, on Tuesday.
In the loss to the Royals, Woodbury (13-3; 7-2 SEC) jumped out to a 45-16 halftime lead. Park was then held to just nine points in the second half as the Royals cruised to the win. Thirteen different players scored for Woodbury, which is ranked No. 9 in Class AAAA, in the game. Senior guard Renard Suggs had a game-high 23. Gorres and sophomore Kaleb Fischer each scored six points for Park.
Park took on Stillwater and East Ridge tipped off with White Bear Lake on Tuesday, after the Bulletin went to print. Next, the Wolfpack travels to Hastings on Friday, while East Ridge will head to rival Woodbury.
The Park vs. East Ridge game marked the halfway point of the conference schedule for both teams.
“We’re pleased with where we are, but by no means are we satisfied,” Virgin said. “We have some long-term goals and that’s what we’re going to focus on every day.”
“I feel like it’s going pretty good, but we haven’t reached our potential yet,” he said.