By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
There’s a different feeling about this year’s St. Michael-Albertville boys’ basketball co-conference championship.
A year removed from sharing the Mississippi 8 title with Rogers, the Knights claimed back-to-back conference titles after a 55-50 victory March 1 at home against Cambridge-Isanti.
The Knights and Buffalo each finished with identical 9-1 conference records. The two teams split their head-to-head matchups, each winning on the others home court. Ironically, STMA and the Bison ultimately settled the tie with a Section 8, 4-A playoff matchup that was played Tuesday night at Buffalo (results in next week’s paper).
“We are very excited about tying for the conference title,” said STMA head coach Tim Anfenson. “The position we were in during pre-season, having lost four all-conference starters, we’ve had to fit in a lot of new pieces. This is very satisfying.”
Last year, there were no questions which players the Knights turned to on a nightly basis. Michael Wiese, Michael Mooney, Herbert Tarpeh and Max Babb all averaged 10 points or better per game. This season, the Knights have only one player that finished the regular season with double digits and that came from sophomore guard Jackson Greenwaldt (15.7 ppg).
Senior forward Brian Ferry has emerged late in the year as one of STMA’s go-to guys and his 9.2 scoring average is second on the team. Four of the last five games, Ferry scored double figures, including 17 in the win over the Bluejackets.
“Ferry and Erik Johnson are both seniors who saw some varsity time last season,” Anfenson said. “They both kind of rotated starts as that fifth guy and to see Ferry play some of his best basketball at the end of his career is really rewarding as a coach.”
Since returning from injury, senior guard Justin McLain has averaged 6.1 points per game off the bench. He and fellow senior’s Cole Krutzig (6.9 ppg) and Johnson (6.1 ppg) have provided both the balanced scoring and hustle needed on a nightly basis.
The Knights headed into the playoff game with Buffalo winners of six straight games and nine of their past 10.
“It’s been a lot of kids chipping in,” Anfenson said. “Guys like Mitch Coulson, who doesn’t get a lot of court time, but is a great team guy.”
Coulson is one of six seniors on this year’s squad, which also includes; Krutzig, McLain, Ferry, Johnson and injured center Austin Brouillette.
While the seniors provided a lot of leadership on and off the court, the Knights have relied heavily this season from their sophomore class.
Greenwaldt’s led the team in scoring in nearly every contest. Trevor Rothstein has averaged 6.8 points and is one of five players to play in every game this season. Josh Tracy led the team in rebounds in a win over Duluth Denfeld and Noah Evans has stepped in as well.
Despite winning the conference, STMA (17-9 overall) had the dubious task on Tuesday night of opening the section playoffs on the road. The last time they played at Buffalo, the Knights defeated the Bison 54-51 on Feb. 15.
Tuesday’s winner plays the Brainerd-Bemidji winner at 6 p.m. on March 9 in the semifinals at St. Cloud State University. The section championship will be 7 p.m. on March 14 at Halenbeck Hall.