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R-P State bound

Mon, Mar 26th, 2012
Posted in All Sports

Vix Bombs R-P to State

If a Rushford-Peterson (23-5) boy’s basketball fan were told leading scorer Nick Thompson wouldn’t score his first (three) point(s) until 1:38 left in the first half of their Section 1A title game with Faribault-Bethlehem Academy (22-7), they probably would’ve scrunched their face unhappily. If they were told R-P would trail 47-41 with 5:00 left, Trojan fans wouldn’t have been full of glee; hope for sure, but not glee. Neither boded well for R-P’s state hopes.

Thompson wasn’t horribly off with his shooting to start the game (he missed his first four attempts). B.A.’s defense was just on. Specifically, 6’2” junior center Tim Angell was on Nick. Angell’s vertical abilities and athleticism (he had two dunks versus Blooming Prairie in the West Sub-Section final) helped curtail Thompson’s scoring opportunities as much as anything.

But alas, good teams have solutions to in-game problems. R-P’s solution to the Thompson-dilemma was their other senior scoring guru, Trent Vix. He picked up the slack. He picked up the slack big time. He picked it up singularly. The 5’9” guard made his first seven shots. He scored the Trojans first 16 points, spurring the green and gold into the lead 16-9. The Cardinals would fight back, taking a couple first half leads. At the half, R-P clung to a 27-23 advantage, as, though Thompson was shutout for the first 16:20, he scored seven straight to end the stanza.

Offense again didn’t come easy in the second half. Each team scraped defensively, B.A. a bit more effectively than R-P. Thompson was again limited (first 2nd half FG came with less than 7:00 to go). Vix was held down too. R-P as a team nailed just two FG’s in the first 10-plus minutes (both by Nick’s younger brother Seth). B.A. fared better, intermingling turnovers (5) with FG’s (7), out-scoring the Trojans 17-8 in that span. They led 40-35 with 8-minutes left, and then 47-41 with roughly five to go (following a Kyle Filzen basket).

The solution to that in-game problem was the same as in the opening minutes. Vix re-donned a cape and took over. On back-to-back possessions, Trent clutchly nailed a pair of three’s from deep, really deep. Both were third-line (NBA) triples, real ‘bombs’, the second tied the game. Seconds later, Vix found senior forward Nate Kingsley for another easy basket. Trent helped start an R-P run, one that gave the Trojans momentum, one that gave their defense energy; Filzen’s basket would be the last points B.A. would put up on the scoreboard.

They went scoreless over the final 5-minutes or so. Six R-P FT’s secured it. For the 7th time since 2000, the Rushford-Peterson Trojans boys were crowned Section champions, defeating the Faribault-B.A. Cardinals 55-47. R-P ended the game on a 14-0 run, a spurt that we’ll allow them to run some more in the state tournament. Filzen (17 points), Angell (14 points, 6 rebs), and Mark Mahowald (13 points) paced Bethlehem Academy. Thompson, in the face of harassment, still finished with 16 points. Vix (23 points) was the game’s star.

“It was Trent’s night,” Coach Tom Vix declared after the game, “Seniors do good things.” When (sarcastically) asked if (Trent) Vix scoring the team’s first 16 points was scripted, Tom replied, “definitely not scripted, but we’ll take it!” Trent’s big performance was actually foreseen by R-P assistant Chris Drinkall. In talking with the other R-P coaches before the game, knowing Vix had 8 and 11 points in the two previous play-off contests, Drinkall noted, “Trent’s due.” Coach Vix has been to state multiple times, but his players haven’t, leaving one of the best coaches in the state to sum up 2011’s trip; “It’s the kids’ big moment. I’ve been there. They haven’t. It’s special to see their eyes big.”

From a statistical point of view, R-P was thriftier with the ball (9 TO’s versus 23 for B.A.). Each team shot solidly or better (R-P 43.9%, B.A. 50%). R-P won the battle from deep (7 of 13 on 3’s to B.A.’s 3 of 11). The Trojans did an excellent job keeping the Cardinals off the offensive glass, limiting them to just three offensive rebounds, four second chance points (by contrast, they gave up 17 and 19 to Spring Grove in the Sub-Section final). It just came down of Trent Vix’s heroics and the momentum they created.

On another note, the game didn’t just feature two very good teams. It featured two coaching legends. Both Vix and B.A.’s Franz Boelter have won more than 500 career games. Tom will lead a team to state for a 12th time. Only four other coaches in the state’s history have more appearances (this year included).

Lange a Bitter, Sweet End

A quote from Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities begins, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” That verse applied to Kingsland Knight senior guard Tanner Lange on Saturday, March 10, 2012. His team took the court and played the Byron Bears for a spot in the Section 1AA title game. In the first half, “It was the best of times.” Lange accomplished a rare feat only a few high school players do. With a free throw at the 5:18 mark of the first half, he reached 1,000-career points (the 4th Knight male player to do so, joining Matt Kolling 1064, Alex Nelson 1467, and Josh Hagan 1512).

Things looked good for his team at halftime too. The Knights led 27-18. Then came the part about, “it was the worst of times.” Byron rallied in the second and defeated Kingsland 55-48. And thus, the line repeated itself.

It was the best of times; Lange reached the 1,000-point plateau (1,005 to be exact). It was the worst of times; it came in his very last high school game. He probably didn’t take any time enjoying what he accomplished on the basketball court. He should. He had an oustanding career. Tanner got his feet wet as a sophomore, averaging 5.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 16 games (on a sub-.500 team that had a lot of close losses). He became a starter as a junior. Post-New Year’s 2011, Lange blossomed offensively. He was at his best in late January (24, 25, and 29-point efforts over a ten-day, four-game span). By and large, it was hard to keep Lange out of double-figures as his junior season evolved (a harbinger of things to come). He finished the season averaging 12.7 points and 4.2 assists per game (All-Conference). The team finished with a 15 and 12 record, but lost to Zumbrota-Mazeppa in the 1AA West quarterfinals.

Lange assuredly wanted more. For his senior season, he played like it. He led the Knights to a second place (tie) finish in the Three Rivers conference, a 20 win season, a Sub-Section 1AA West runner-up, scoring in double-figures every single game. He averaged 20.1 points per contest. Considering he was also the Knights main ball-handler, that squarely made Tanner the prototypical combo-guard (think Chris Paul or Deron Williams).

He was equally adept at putting the ball in the basket himself, or dishing to teammates (averaged 4.7 assists per game). No slight to his dime-dropping abilities, but he was probably more adept at scoring. Where do you begin? He was a guru at speedily getting the ball to the basket, where he used his sturdy 6’1” 185-pound frame to finish. He was also incredibly adept at backing his man into the painted area. There he used his size again to get off mid-range shots, or, he used a quick (patented) spin move to set up easy lay-ins.

Rochester-Lourdes knows the second technique all too well. They saw it a lot in the second half of the Sub-Section semifinal contest, the half where Lange simply wouldn’t be denied a victory and wasn’t. With all that aggressiveness came another staple of Lange’s game: FT’s. He shot a lot of them (204 heading into the play-offs). He made a lot too (150, or 73%), excluding a 9 of 10 effort (all in the second half) in the Lourdes victory. Then there was the on-ball defense he (and back-court mate Sam Eberle) applied. Lange got plenty of steals (3.6 per game), plenty of breakaway lay-ins courtesy of that defense. Just ask Caledonia. In the team’s first meeting of the year, the Warriors struggled getting the ball past half-court, courtesy of Lange (and Eberle). Tanner finished with 26 points.

The Knights won by 38, a fact well documented in Kingsland’s Senior Night 2012 booklet; nearly every player referenced it as their favorite basketball memory. Four-point-two rebounds per game made Tanner nothing less than a ‘stat-sheet stuffer.’ His coach, Paul Eckheart, called Tanner “Mr. Passion.” He went on to say, “His love for the game transcends everything. He (took) on the role of leader for (the Knights) and embraced it with open arms. He (was) the coach on the floor.” There weren’t too many games where Tanner wasn’t the best player on the floor.

It’s unknown whether his passion, his b-ball abilities, will again take an organized basketball court. Tanner is still undecided on college. His last high school game may have been more bitter than sweet, but a few things are for sure. His basketball exploits were sweet. They’ll be remembered fondly. They won’t be forgotten in the land of of Kings. Tanner (and his senior teammates) authored many “best of times” for Knight fans.

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