By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
Something had to give.
Two of the hottest teams squared off last Wednesday in the Section 8, Class 4A quarterfinal playoffs at Buffalo High School. Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville each split a pair of regular season games earlier in the year – both winning on each other’s home court. The two teams ended up as co-champs of the Mississippi 8.
The Knights came into the playoffs winners of six games in a row and nine of their past 10. Their late season surge wasn’t enough to garner a top seed and they were forced as a No. 5 seed to open the playoffs on the road at No. 4 seed Buffalo.
As good as STMA has been the past month of the season, Buffalo was even better. They came into the showdown winners of five games in a row and winners of 11 of its past 12.
“Their streak was better than ours,” said STMA head coach Tim Anfenson. “It’s at their place and they are very physical and a hard team to play against.”
Buffalo finished the season ranked one in the conference allowing 53.1 points against, just clipping STMA’s 54.7 average. Both teams rely heavily on their defensive grit and Wednesday’s playoff game proved that.
With both teams exchanging early buckets, Buffalo made the first punch, taking a 22-14 lead thanks to a 13-0 scoring run.
“The game was lost in the first half when we went 10 minutes without scoring a basket,” Anfenson said. “We didn’t play very composed during that stretch. But defensively we played pretty well.”
Sophomore guard Jackson Greenwaldt was held scoreless in the first half and eventually finished the game failing to register a point. Greenwaldt was STMA’s scoring leader averaging 15.7 per game.
With Buffalo’s pounding defense shutting down STMA’s top offensive threat, senior’s Brian Ferry, Justin McLain and Erik Johnson did their part to keep the game within reach.
Ferry scored eight of his 10 points in the first half – a half the Bison led 22-16. The 16 points scored in one half was a season low for the Knights.
“Coach emphasized getting the ball inside on these guys,” Ferry said. “I felt a little bit of pressure. But I felt like I had the ability to step up, it just didn’t happen enough times.”
“Yeah, for sure,” said senior guard Cole Krutzig, when asked if the Bison are their toughest defensive opponent. “You can tell by the final scores. Every time we play them, it’s always close and low scores.”
STMA was in danger of being blown out as Buffalo’s Levi Bean came out in fire to start the second half. Clutch baskets from junior Dallas Freeman, sophomore Trevor Rothstein and McLain cut a 28-19 deficit into a 29-28 STMA lead midway through the second half.
“We had some other guys step up,” Anfenson said. “We’re up three with a couple minutes left and just needed a couple stops and a couple rebounds.”
A couple three’s from Freer and Sam Ortmann gave the Bison a 38-37 advantage with three minutes left.
Down by three in the closing seconds, Krutzig – who was held to two points – drove the lane for a quick layup. His shot failed to go and even though Krutzig felt he was impeded with on his way to the basket, he didn’t blame the referee’s afterwards for the no-call.
“I felt like he was pushing me,” Krutzig said. “But it’s hard for a ref to make a call at the end of the game like that. I understand where he was coming from. We were just trying to get points as fast as we could.”
Buffalo iced the game away in the closing seconds at the free-throw line and advanced to the quarterfinal game with a 45-39 win.
It’s the second consecutive year the Knights (17-10) were ousted in the opening round of the playoffs.
Both Ferry and Krutzig had to come to grips that their season and high school careers came to an end with the loss.
“We’re never going to suit up in this uniform again,” Krutzig said. “We’re never going to play an official basketball game again. It hasn’t sunk in quite yet.”
“It just sucks,” Ferry said. It hasn’t sunk in quite yet, but it will.”