Photo by Craig Johnson
The 3-point shot by Landon Skalet in the last five minutes of the Section 1A East 
Championship game, led the Trojans to a 46-43 victory over Spring Grove last Saturday.
Photo by Craig Johnson The 3-point shot by Landon Skalet in the last five minutes of the Section 1A East Championship game, led the Trojans to a 46-43 victory over Spring Grove last Saturday.
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Technically, you can call it an upset. But, the No. 2 seeded Rushford-Peterson boys basketball team earned every one of their 46 points to win out in the MSHSL Section 1A East Championship game versus No. 1 seed Spring Grove on Saturday, March 11, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. The final score was 46-43.
Going into the game, coach Tom Vix was confident in his team’s ability to perform, but knew it was going to be a close game.

Throughout much of the game, Spring Grove either led or was tied with R-P. But their lead never extended past a three-point differential, keeping fans on their seats for every steal, foul and basket; and there were plenty of those to go around!

In the second half, the momentum slowly moved back towards the Trojans as the defense, spearheaded by Jake Paulson and Noah Carlson, stepped into a stronger rhythm.

In the second half, Carlson gave the Trojans their first lead, since the opening minutes of the game when he scored off of a steal on a breakaway lay-up, putting R-P ahead 30-28.

As the clock wound down, Lukas Rasmussen gave the Trojans their biggest lead of the game with back to back 3-pointers. At 39-33 with four minutes left, everything was looking up.

Then a few game seconds later, Carlson committed his fifth foul. Vix worked to fill the position Carlson left. He moved Paulson to his spot and put in Payton Hahn where Paulson was.

“Offensively, we were just trying to spread the floor,” said Vix.

In doing so, it gave SG a fire to take advantage of Carlson’s absence. They mounted a brief comeback, giving Vix pause as to how to contain the Lions.

“We had two problems – the place was really loud, so we couldn’t call plays in. We just wheeled it,” shared Vix. “At the time, you just have to make the call. You have three seconds in your brain to say, ‘What does it feel like? Do we call a time out?’”

Vix noticed that the Lions were ready to take advantage of a time out by putting in a rested and strong defensive player. So, Vix opted to leave his team on the floor and trust the leadership and experience of the weathered team.

“I felt like we were still on attack mode so I let them play through,” he said.

When the Lions tied the Trojans, it was Rasmussen who got open and was able to score an easy layup with 2:40 left.

After more foul trouble on the part of R-P, Spring Grove tied them again, 41-41. Dahl was able to put more points on the board with a layup at just one minute left.

When the score sat at 43-43, it seemed a fair bet that the game would head to overtime, but the Trojans never panicked. They did what they did throughout the season in practice and games – they got the ball to a player who could make the shot. In this case, it was Landon Skalet, in the corner, who sunk a 3-pointer with five seconds left.

The rattled SG team had five seconds to put together an offensive maneuver, and they were able to get a shot off, but it was no good.

Skalet hit the type of shot that each athlete dreams of. The winning shot in a championship game that looks effortless and easy!

“He had a great look. He was very relaxed when he shot it. Good for him,” said Vix.

Vix gave equal credit to Paulson, who charged the basket just before the pass, drawing two defenders. “If he doesn’t drive in and draw two defenders, (Skalet) doesn’t get that look,” said Vix. “The pass was right in the shot pocket. That helps shooters.”

Paulson lead the team in scoring for the evening with 11 points overall. He was 5-8 in 2-point shots; he made a free throw and had four assists.

Carlson, Rasmussen and Skalet, all scored eight points each. Carlson has two 2-pointers, a 3-point shot, a free throw and four assists. Rasmussen made all of his points in the second half with the aforementioned 3-pointers and lay-up while Skalet was 2-3 in 2-point shots while also scoring a free throw and the game winning three.

On defense, Paulson had five rebounds and four steals while Carlson had five rebounds and three steals. Dahl had four rebounds, and Payton Hahn had three.

While the Trojans ended up on the winning edge of the game, they still had a few questionable moments, particularly in missed free throws and the accumulation of fouls – warranted or not.

“We always talk about playing through adversity and refereeing. I don’t know if we got any breaks,” said Vix, although he admitted that Spring Grove probably felt the same way. “It’s all in your perspective. I thought our kids kept the task at hand and didn’t let things bother them.”

In 2016, SG sent the Trojans packing. This time, the rematch went to Vix and his Trojans.

While the individual players may have appreciated the victory over Spring Grove more, due to what happened last year, Vix insists that they would have played just as strong against any other team.

“No matter who we were playing, our kids wanted to keep moving on. They are not going to give up that year so easily,” he said.

Overall, R-P leads in wins over Spring Grove with 41 wins to 9, including 8-2 in sub-section action that includes 4-2 in championship games.

The Trojans have played in 20 of the last 21 sub-section championship games and have won 17 titles with an amazing sub-section record of 57-4. Three of those four losses came against Spring Grove.

Up next

R-P will face off against Goodhue on Thursday night, March 16, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester for the Section 1A Championship. Tipoff is at 8 p.m.

“I think both (us and Goodhue) are relatively slow-paced teams,” summarized Vix. “SG was a higher-paced team. We still need to do a good job defensively and make shots as difficult as possible.”

If they can do that, R-P might return to state competition for the first time since their state championship win in 2015.