They already share a district and, subsequently, one of the most heated rivalries in Minnesota high school boys’ basketball. But after Osseo held serve with a 66-56 home victory over Park Center Feb. 5, there is a good chance the two teams will share something else.
The win pulled the Orioles even with Park Center atop the Northwest Suburban Conference standings. Twenty games into the season, both teams sit with an 18-2 overall record and 14-1 mark in NWSC play.
Following Osseo’s victory Feb. 5, both teams won Feb. 8 — Osseo 76-62 at Champlin Park and Park Center 79-43 vs. Coon Rapids — meaning with five conference games each yet to play, their chances of sharing the NWSC title are growing by the game.
“We needed this if we wanted a chance at the conference championship,” said Osseo head coach Tim Theisen. “We needed to keep pace, because they are such a good team that I don’t know if we could count on them to lose twice. We had to take care of our business at home, and we did that.”
Osseo did it primarily with defense, holding Park Center nearly 20 points below its season average.
The Orioles also got the better of a showdown between guards Bridgeport Tusler and Park Center senior Quinton Hooker. Hooker torched Osseo for 37 points in a 73-62 victory Dec. 18. This time, with Tusler on his hip most of the night, Hooker scored just 14. Tusler, meanwhile, went for a game-high 22.
“I’m sure some people looked at it as me vs. Quinton, but that wasn’t what I was focused on,” said Tusler. “This was about our team. This was about proving we are the best. They were No. 1 in the state, but I don’t see us as giant killers, because we are the giants. We are the ones defending a state title.”
Indeed, Tusler didn’t beat the Pirates single-handedly. Ian Theisen had a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Wheeler Baker and Matt Miedtke scored 10 and 9 points, respectively.
The Orioles will likely have to go through Park Center again should their hopes of repeating come to be. Both teams will begin their postseason in the Class 4A, Section 5 tournament, and there is little doubt the two clubs will holds the top two seeds when the playoffs begin in early March.
They can share a conference championship, but only one can win the section. And regardless of what transpired last week, both teams vowed to remain focused on that singular goal.
“This wasn’t our biggest game,” said Park Center head coach Broderick Powell. “We are going to play bigger games than this. Our end goal is to be state champs. We’ll have to probably beat them if we are going to accomplish that goal, but we’ll take that opportunity. I’m still excited about where we are heading.”