Boys Basketball: East Ridge advances to state tournament for the first time in program history
East Ridge 71, Cretin-Derham Hall 45
With 15 seconds left in the section finals game on Thursday night, East Ridge's Zach Zebrowski was passed the basketball. He held onto it for 13 seconds.
The last two seconds were used to throw the ball as high as he could into the air. When he let go of the ball, the entire team ran onto the court with smiles and hugging one another.
The East Ridge boys basketball team had done it.
After the celebration, each of the players went over to nine-year-old Manny Hudnall to give him fist bumps as he was an additional member to the team this winter season.
As the celebration concluded and the players were preparing for the awards ceremony, head coach Bryce Tesdahl looked up at the scoreboard one last time.
The lights shined 71-45 in favor of the Raptors over No. 2 seed Cretin-Derham Hall. The last two seasons East Ridge has been on the losing end, so winning on Thursday night wasn't just a win for the Raptors.
"I was just waiting for the ball at the end of the game because I knew I was going to throw the ball as high as I could," Zebrowski said. "This was a great night for our community and we couldn't be more excited about heading to the state tournament next week."
This win put this 2018-19 team into the record books as East Ridge captured its first section title in program history.
"Tonight just shows that we've been working non-stop since the loss in the section finals last year," said senior Courtney Brown Jr. "We continued to keep pushing ourselves so that we could reach this goal and head to the state tournament."
The game itself had a tale of two completely opposite halves. The first one was low-scoring and close, while the second one was high-scoring and complete domination for the Raptors.
Cretin-Derham Hall is known for its fast-play and it's speed up and down the court. The Raiders decided to take a step back in the first half and made it a little slower pace of play.
It threw Tesdahl and the Raptors slightly odd guard, but the halftime speech allowed the players to refocus and understand how to control the ball no matter the pace of play.
That confidence showed right from the beginning of the second half.
"We were able to push the pace a little bit into our favor with more of a fast tempo," Tesdahl said. "That small push allowed us to play strong defense and score transition points from defensive rebounds and turnovers."
It was a dunk show for the Raptors as Zebrowski was dishing out alley-oops. Individual players were stealing the ball and finding a way to get up for a dunk during transition as well.
Hudnall was on the East Ridge bench providing scores for the dunks. The majority of them were perfect 10's, except for one score of nine.
Hudnall is a nine-year-old boy that has spina bifida, which is when the spinal cord doesn't fully develop as the baby is being born. Hudnall's father, Harrison Hudnall, said Manny is a social and enjoyable person to be around and is one of the biggest East Ridge fans.
His passion for the Raptors started in football and carried into basketball as Manny is always there giving out fist bumps and high-fives at every boys basketball game this season. He's been East Ridge's good luck charm all season and Tesdahl said he couldn't be happier having Manny apart of the team this season.
"It's amazing to see these players form a connection with him and invite him in the locker room after games," Harrison Hudnall said. "He brings joy to anyone he sees and it's been an amazing to watch this basketball team and they deserve every achievement this season."
After the win, Manny wasn't the only person the players were celebrating with as many of the players ran to the East Ridge stands and celebrated with family and friends. Many pictures were taken with the trophy and more continued to be taken as the players and coaches cut down the net.
Tesdahl cut the last piece of the net and placed the net over his head as he fish pumped in the air. He knew how special this night was going to be for not only him, but the East Ridge community.
"It's so special being able to bring this back to East Ridge High School and the community," said junior Ben Carlson.
But, the starting five all agreed that their season isn't over. They still have one more goal in mind and that's to bring home a state trophy.
The Raptors had three goals set at the beginning of the season. The first was to win a conference championship. The second was to win a section championship. And the third was to win a state championship.
East Ridge has been able to check off two of the three with a conference and section title, but the players are determined to fight at the state tournament. They know the level of competition is going to increase, but the team believes they've faced these challenges during the regular season.
"We just have to take it game by game and focus on our next opponent," said senior Patrick Lynott. "That's what we've been doing all season."
After cutting down the net and taking thousands of photos with family and friends, the team returned back to the locker room. The players were waiting inside with bottles of water and sprayed Tesdahl as he walked in.
Manny Hudnall was also in the locker room after the game and gave his postgame speech to the group. The summary of the speech was to keep this momentum rolling into Target Center next week.
The team has been waiting all season for this state tournament, but the mentality needs to stay the same as the section tournament. Tesdahl said it best as the Raptors need to go 1-0 three straight times to win a section title. Now, East Ridge needs to go 1-0 three straight times to bring home a state title.
East Ridge 64, St. Paul Central 52
East Ridge head coach Bryce Tesdahl loves the month of March.
The month of March is the month of basketball at all levels. With the NBA, teams are fighting for a last spot in the playoffs. The college basketball teams are playing in conference tournaments and waiting to see if their school will be announced for March Madness in the NCAA Tournament.
For high school, it's the two most important tournaments of the season. First, the section tournament. Second, the state tournament.
"There's nothing better than March basketball," Tesdahl said. "If you're a basketball fan or player or coach, there's nothing better. It's sad it only comes around once a year."
Tesdahl brought that love for this month to his East Ridge boys basketball team in the locker room at the half on Monday night. The Raptors were trailing 30-29 to No. 5 seed St. Paul Central at the half of the section semifinals.
That discussion in the locker room sparked some runs and key shots to allow East Ridge to gain a lead. The Raptors stuck onto that lead and finished on top with a 64-52 final score.
"Coach [Tesdahl] said that we've worked way too hard this summer to play the way we are right now," said Ben Carlson. "We didn't put in all that time during the summer to play like that in March."
Carlson said they knew St. Paul Central was going to be a tough team. They have speed and can shoot threes throughout the entire game.
That speed helped St. Paul Central grab an early lead in the game. East Ridge caused a handful of turnovers and couldn't get the ball in the net to start Monday's game.
The score stayed pretty close for the majority of the first half with each team going on small runs, but nothing to command the lead for a long period of time. A new game plan formed for the Raptors at the half and they stuck to it in the second half.
"We started using our height in the second half," said Courtney Brown Jr. "Central doesn't have the height like us, so we tried to go into the paint more often in the second half and it seemed to work better for us."
With Carlson and Brown Jr. being in the 6-foot-9 to 6-foot-10 range, they just kept driving the paint and commanding the rebounds offensively and defensively. When Central would collapse the paint to double team Carlson or Brown Jr., they would kick it out to one of the Raptors on the 3-point line.
The entire starting five contributed from the 3-point line and made it hard for Central to guard one particular person.
Along with the offensive production, Tesdahl was happy with the changes defensively in the second half. The Raptors stopped the fast breaks that happened often in the first half and they contested almost every shot in the second half.
"We came out in the second half with more plays and a defensive mind," Tesdahl said.
The win on Monday puts East Ridge into the section finals game on Thursday, March 14 at 7 p.m. at Hastings High School.
Their opponent? The Raiders of Cretin-Derham Hall.
These two teams faced off last year in the section finals, but the Raiders finished on top to head to the state tournament. This year, some things have changed.
First, the Raptors are the No. 1 seed in the tournament which means they will be the favorite coming into Thursday night. Second, East Ridge has had the upper hand in the regular season with a two-game sweep over the Raiders.
The first meeting happened in East Ridge's fourth game of the season on Dec. 14 as the Raptors won 83-71 over the Raiders. Then, the second meeting was the third to last game of the season on Feb. 23 as East Ridge dominated with a 96-75 win.
Tesdahl and the Raptors team understands the Raiders have state tournament experience and knows what it takes to get there, but they are confident that their hard work over the summer and into the season has allowed them to reach this point.
The Raptors also understand that Thursday is a big game for the boys basketball program as they've never reached the state tournament since the school opened about 10 years ago. A win on Thursday would give East Ridge a bid to its first state tournament.
"We know Cretin is a good team and we'll have to play hard every minute to earn a spot at state," Carlson said.
"It'll be a fun game with the atmosphere surrounding the two teams on Thursday night," Brown
Jr. said. "We know what Cretin is like and we'll be ready for good game on Thursday."