Forest Lake junior forward Steven Colon made a hard layup despite heavy contact with an Andover defender, drawing a whistle with a little under nine minutes to play in the second half of the Section 7AAAA championship game on March 17. The Rangers celebrated: before the ball hit the net they were down 43-30, and an old-fashioned three-point play was just what they needed to start a comeback. Then, in a stunning turn of events, the referees signaled an offensive foul.
The Rangers were flabbergasted, and – perhaps out of frustration – senior forward Mitch Jerde committed a foul on Andover forward Mason Heath. Heath hit both his foul shots, maximizing the Huskies’ lead at 45-30.
Husky guard Logan Rezac, who Forest Lake head coach Dan Cremisino called the best player in Section 7AAAA, already had 20 points to his name – more than twice the total of any other player – and had frustrated Ranger defenders both inside and on the perimeter.
Instead of throwing in the towel, over the next five minutes the Rangers stormed ahead with a furious comeback attempt that very nearly turned the game around.
On the next Ranger foray, senior guard Jake Larson was bowled over in the act of shooting a three. He earned the three points one at a time by hitting each of his free throw attempts.
The Rangers played a full-court press whenever Andover had the ball to counteract the Huskies’ attempt to play slowly and run down the clock. After the Rangers’ pressure helped create a steal, Colon fired up a contested three that found the net, pulling the Rangers within nine at 45-36. Colon stole the ball immediately a drew a foul, then hit two free throws to draw the Rangers even closer.
The sudden turn forced the Huskies to burn a timeout with 6:45 to go.
“We got some traps, we got a couple stops and made some good shots,” Cremisino said.
During the break, Colon did what he could to hype up his teammates.
“He’s a very passionate kid,” Cresmisino said. “He’s a good basketball player who keeps getting better.”
Heath hit a short jumper for Andover to stop the Ranger run at seven points, but the Rangers quickly cancelled those points. Colon, having drawn another foul, made his first free throw but missed the second. Jerde pulled down an offensive rebound and connected on a layup despite heavy pressure, swinging the score to 47-41.
Andover was able to bleed an entire minute off the clock on their ensuing possession, but turned the ball over when a Husky ballcarrier stepped over the endline.
Junior forward Thad Ball collected his own rebound after a missed layup and went to the basket successfully on the second try, cutting the lead to 47-43 with 4:35 remaining.
Andover answered with a layup by Conor Knoepfle, but Colon answered that with a layup of his own – 49-45.
Husky forward Jacob Paul scored to drive the lead to 51-45 with 3:20 to play.
Ball hit a pair of foul shots, then Andover dropped the ball out of bounds on their inbound attempt. Larson scored a driving layup with 3:08 to go, making the score 51-49 and forcing Andover to call another timeout. In total, the Rangers had rolled off a 19-6 run.
Alas, that would be as close as the Rangers would get to winning the section title and advancing to the Class AAAA state tournament.
The Rangers earned a tie-up with 2:32 to play, but the possession arrow favored Andover. A minute later, Paul worked himself free for an easy layup, then put in a second layup on a fast break to extend the Andover advantage back to six.
The Rangers attacked quickly, and although they would score four more points, they more often missed their shots in the game’s final minute, forcing them to foul the Husky rebounders and send them to the line. The Andover shooters went a perfect 8-for-8 on free throw attempts during this sequence, negating any Ranger advantage. The Huskies eventually extended the lead to a final score of 63-53.
“I’m disappointed,” Cremisino said. “It hurts. Our goal was to win it and we put ourselves in a position to win it. Shots weren’t falling, and (Andover) made some great plays. The Rangers had started the game brightly. On the Rangers’ first three trips down the court in the first half, sophomore forward John Schrader hit a three on the game’s first possession, Larson hit a layup, and Jerde knocked in a trey to give the Rangers an 8-4 lead. Andover would tie the game with back-to-back fruitful possessions, part of a 10-4 sequence that would see the Huskies pull ahead.
With 10 minutes left in the half, Larson nailed a three-pointer to give the Rangers a 15-14 lead, which would prove to be their last. Rezac put away a three with 7:50 remaining to put the Huskies ahead – for good, as it turned out. The Huskies would hold a 32-27 advantage at halftime.
Forest Lake, seeded No. 1 in the section tournament, fell in the final for the second consecutive season. The Rangers lost 47-37 to Blaine in last year’s final.
No. 7 Andover pulled off a stunning playoff run by knocking off the three top-rated teams in consecutive rounds, Blaine, Coon Rapids and Forest Lake.
The Ranger loss ended the high school basketball careers for seniors Jerde, Larson, Jack Breitbach and Ryan McGrath.
Other his seniors, Cremisino said:
JAKE LARSON: “One of the top point guards in the history of Forest Lake. He did everything for us. He’s a great leader.”
MITCH JERDE: “A three-sport athlete and a tough kid. He can score, he can defend, he can rebound. He does it all.”
JACK BREITBACH: “He gave us some length, and did a nice job defending other bigs for us. He’s an unselfish player.”
RYAN MCGRATH: “He started some games for us, and played in some key situations when we needed him. HE always kept his head up and worked his tail off.”
Larson is in the process of choosing between Augsburg College and Hamline University to continue his basketball career. Jerde has committed to play football at Northern Michigan University.