Park Center wins section final thriller 73-71
by Bob San
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
There will be a new state champion in 4A boys’ basketball this year. The Park Center Pirates made sure of that when they defeated defending state champion Osseo 73-71 in the Section 5 championship game in front of a packed gym at Rogers High March 15.
Park Center was seeded first and Osseo second. The teams had split two regular season games and the rubber match was for all the marbles. The game was close all the way but the Pirates had the decisive run late in the game to pull out a victory.
“We are never comfortable with losing at Osseo,” Osseo coach Tim Theisen said. “But we lost to a very good team. Park Center is a very talented team led by one of the best basketball players I’ve seen in Quinton Hooker. The game was like a state championship or state semifinal between two top-three teams, only it took place in a section final.”
Defense ruled in the first half and Osseo used a late run to take a halftime lead of 29-25. A three by Matt Miedtke tied it 21-21 and Bridge Tusler exploded for eight straight points late in the half to give Osseo the four-point edge.
Action was rough and furious in a tight second half with the teams exchanging leads throughout. The Pirates were determined to stop Osseo junior center Ian Theisen and crowded him with two players. Unfortunately for the Orioles, their outside shooting was off as only Wheeler Baker and Miedtke managed to hit threes in the game.
Still, Osseo appeared to be in control halfway through the half when it built a 47-42 lead on a steal and dunk by Baker. The Pirates charged to a 52-49 lead but four points from Tusler and two by Theisen put Osseo back up 55-52. PC came back for a 57-55 lead but Theisen tied it 57-57 with a rebound basket with 5 minutes left.
That set the stage for a harrowing final five minutes that saw the Pirates go ahead for good at 59-57 on a basket from Hooker with 4:36 to play. Down the final minutes, the Pirates made more key baskets and free throws than the Orioles, who were victims of some costly turnovers. The Pirates converted those Osseo mistakes into big points and built a seven-point lead with 2:12 left, but Osseo wasn’t going anywhere. Tusler hit a pair of baskets at the rim in the final minute, each of which made it a one-possession contest. But Hooker made good on five-of-six free throw attempts in the final minute to get Park Center to state.
Coach Theisen felt his team was not able to adjust to the tight officiating, especially in the second half, and that was a key to Osseo’s loss. Park Center shot 35 free throws in the game compared to Osseo’s 22. Fouls also hurt Osseo because starting forward Rakeem Felder was in foul trouble from the start and picked up his fourth fouls early in the second half and did not play his usual minutes.
“It became a free throw contest,” Theisen said. “If you put a team to the free throw line 35 times you are not going to win too many games. It’s not basketball but we had to adjust.”
Theisen noted that Park Center only had 25 points in the first half and ended up with 73. Of the Pirates’ 48 points in the second half, 22 came from the free throw line.
“Again we had to adjust. Unfortunately they kept callings fouls and we kept fouling and that hurt us,” he said.
Coach Theisen acknowledged that his team also fell victim to its own mistakes late in the game.
“Turnovers did hurt us down the stretch and the lack of execution hurt as well,” he said. “Park Center was attacking the rims pretty hard in the second half. Our kids held their poise. Whether up five or down seven, they battled back and never gave up.”
Hooker finished with a game-high 27 points. Tusler led Osseo with 21 points, Baker had 19, Theisen scored 16, Wilson added 9 and Miedtke 6.
Tusler, who engaged Hooker in a fierce combat, tipped his hat to the Pirates.
“Park Center is solid,” Tusler said. “They are a great team and they have a great leader in Hooker.”
While disappointed that Osseo will not get a chance to defend its state title, Tusler was still proud that his team left it all on the court and never gave up.
“We wish it had gone the other way but I can’t ask anything more from this team or even myself,” Tusler said. “We have no regrets about it. We never gave up. There is nothing else you can ask for. I am glad the juniors, freshmen and sophomores on the bench got to experience what it’s like being an Oriole. I am glad they got to see what they are going to do as up and coming players and what coaches expect of them.”
Tusler is one of six graduating seniors. The others are Felder, Wilson, Harrison Lucas, Ty Vann and Zach Bahl. The Orioles should be tough again next year as junior starters Theisen, Baker and Miedtke return.
The section final loss ended Tusler’s brilliant three-year career. Osseo took third in the state when he was a sophomore and won state when he was a junior.
“It was fun. I wish it keeps going,” Tusler said. “I am always an Oriole. Tradition never graduates. Coach Theisen, football coach Derrin Lamker and the teachers and staff in the building taught me so many things. I am happy to be part of that building. I am going to graduate but our tradition does not. I will always be a part of that program. They will find someone to replace me. I am glad I left my mark here. I am just happy to be an Oriole.”
Contact Bob San at [email protected]