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Top games: Mountain Iron-Buhl heads south to Mayer Lutheran in Class 1A clash

By Brendan O'Brien, SportsEngine, 02/20/23, 10:15AM CST


Feb. 25: The Rangers and Crusaders head into the final week of the season with state tournament hopes as the top two teams in Class 1A.

Photo by SportsEngine

We task our reporters with identifying several intriguing games throughout the state to assemble our Top Games of the Week. The matchups are presented in no particular order, and when there are additional games we want to highlight, we’ll include them with brief notes.

Mountain Iron-Buhl vs. Mayer Lutheran

1:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25

What better way to preview what could be a possible Class A state tournament matchup than to have the top two teams in the class in Mountain Iron-Buhl (20-3) and Mayer Lutheran (20-3) face off at the end of the regular season?

Both the Rangers and Crusaders made last season’s state tournament, and both are still looking for the ultimate season-ending prize of a state championship.

No. 1-1A Mountain Iron-Buhl comes into the matchup with one of the best offenses in the state. The Rangers are averaging 82.4 points per game behind three players in double figures. Junior guard Jordan Zubich (28 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is among the top five scorers in Minnesota, while senior guard Sage Ganyo (18.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and junior guard Hali Savela (17.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) have also proven to be reliable on both ends of the floor.

With two games remaining before squaring off with Mayer Lutheran, Mountain Iron-Buhl is currently in the midst of a 12-game winning streak, including five straight scoring more than 95 points. This will be the Rangers fifth meeting (2-2) against a current ranked opponent. A road win would be a solid accomplishment heading into the postseason after winning the Class 1A consolation bracket last season.

After falling in the state semifinal round last year, however, No. 2-1A Mayer Lutheran has its sights on reaching one more round to reach and win the state championship, and a win over Mountain Iron-Buhl would be a sign in the right direction.

The Crusaders won 10 games to start the season before falling to three Class 2A opponents. The last time they welcomed a ranked Class 1A opponent onto their home court, however, it ended in their favor, as the Crusaders beat No. 3 Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart.

Senior wing Madeline Guetzkow (17.2 ppg) scored 28 points against the Mustangs, so Mayer Lutheran will expect her to step up again facing Mountain Iron-Buhl. The biggest question for the Crusaders will be whether they will slow down the Rangers’ offense or try to keep up with it, as Mayer Lutheran allows only 47.4 points per game to opponents, but scores only 65.4 points per game.

Both teams would still need to advance out of their respective sections, but the winner of this game would likely hold the No. 1 ranking going into the postseason.

St. Michael-Albertville vs. Hopkins

7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 21

The Lake Conference is once again shaking out in Hopkins’ favor, but St. Michael-Albertville has a chance to complicate the standings with a win on the road in an attempt to win at least a share of its first conference title since leaving the Mississippi 8 Conference.

Currently the No. 3 team in Class 4A, St. Michael-Albertville (22-2) has won seven straight heading into the road matchup. Facing off in what could be their final game of the regular season against a ranked opponent, the Knights have been tested all season with a 6-2 record against Class 3A and 4A ranked foes. The only two losses came against Wayzata and Hopkins, two crucial hits to the Knights’ chances of winning their first Lake Conference crown.

Senior guard Tessa Johnson (23.0 ppg) and junior guard Ja’Kahla Craft (15.9 ppg) lead St. Michael-Albertville, and both will likely need to score in double figures if the Knights are going to keep pace with the Royals’ offense (73.2 ppg). Johnson had 23 the last time the two teams faced, but the Knights fell 75-66 Jan. 27 at home.

Hopkins (21-1), however, hopes to continue its dominance over the Lake Conference with another win over St. Michael-Albertville. Currently at 9-1 in the conference, the Royals are not only looking to win another title but also extend an impressive conference streak. The last time the Royals lost multiple Lake Conference regular season games came in 2010-11.

Forward Sunaja Agara (19.6 ppg) and guard Taylor Woodson (16 ppg) hope to continue that streak in their final season with Hopkins. The Royals have beaten eight ranked teams between Class 3A and 4A and are undefeated on their home court. However, they will likely need to slow down Johnson to come away with another win over the Knights and be crowned Lake Conference champions once again.

Perham vs. Thief River Falls

7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23

With little time left to move up or down the postseason standings, Perham (22-2) and Thief River Falls (18-5) are set to battle in a Class 2A, Section 8 tournament matchup in the final week of the regular season.

Ranked No. 9, Perham is the top team in section 8AA with its final game coming at Thief River Falls. Winners of 15 of their last 16 games, the Yellowjackets are 15-0 when facing a section opponent and look to keep it that way against the Prowlers.

Junior forward Willow Thiel is averaging a double-double (20 ppg, 11 rpg), and a strong performance from her on the road could help Perham come away victorious. The Yellowjackets are hoping for a win to end the season on a five-game win streak to carry momentum into the postseason. As the likely No. 1 seed in the section, the Yellowjackets are also hoping for a different result once they get there this season, as they fell 70-49 to Menahga in the Class 2A, Section 8 semifinal.

Thief River Falls is also on a bit of a hot streak, winning nine of their last 10 games with two remaining in the regular season. At 9-4 when facing section foes, the Prowlers might not be able to make the leap to the No. 1 seed in the tournament, but knocking off the Yellowjackets could help them earn the No. 2 seed over Pelican Rapids.

Pelican Rapids has the better section opponents record (12-4), but Thief River Falls has the head-to-head advantage after a 46-36 win Jan. 17. Another win against a top team in the section like Perham could boost the Prowlers confidence to make a run after losing the first round of sections last year. 

Along with earning a section win, Thief River Falls will also be motivated by revenge, as they have lost the last two meetings to Perham 64-58 in 2021-22 and 53-33 in 2019-20.

Other games to keep an eye on

Lakeville North vs. Rosemount, 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 23. The top two teams in the South Suburban Conference square off one more time before section tournaments begin. Lakeville North (18-5) is currently in the middle of an eight-game win streak, including a 51-49 win over Rosemount (18-5) at home. Averaging 13.7 points per game, junior forward Trinity Wilson has led the Panthers offense and helped them come closer to their first conference title since 2016-17. Junior guard Avery Moeller (13 ppg) and the Irish, however, are looking to avenge the loss earlier in the season and build momentum heading into the postseason. After the two teams both made the Class 4A state tournament last season, Lakeville North and Rosemount are each the top seed in their respective sections.

Esko vs. Grand Rapids, 7:15 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 21. Coming off a Class 3A state tournament appearance, Grand Rapids (22-2) has been sharp throughout the season, winning 22 consecutive games. Senior guard Tayrn Hamling (22 ppg) and junior forward Jessika Lofstrom (16 ppg, 8.2 rpg) have led the way for the Thunderhawks, who will look to extend their win streak to 23 when they face Esko (13-9), which could prove to be a challenging. As a Class 2A foe, the Eskomos have the opportunity to play spoiler against the No. 3-3A Thunderhawks as they have kept games close. In seven of its nine losses, Esko has lost by less than 10 points. 

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