Osseo’s Blake Wheeler may have said it best following a wild comeback against the No. 1 seed Champlin Park Rebels in the Section 5 4A championship.
“It shows that March is really what matters,” Wheeler said. “It’s true March Madness.”
An epic 72-67 overtime win by the Orioles over the Rebels before a packed crowd at Rogers High School on Friday, March 7 encapsulated their seasons in a way. The Rebels jumped ahead as quickly as they did in the conference chase with a 17-1 start to the season.
Rebels junior guard Marty Hill buried a three-pointer and other baskets for a 13-7 lead, and his team cleared the bench going into the timeout at 12:57. Senior guard Alec Leabo picked up a couple steals and buried a three-pointer to give the Rebels a 20-7 lead.
“In that first half, they played Champlin Park basketball,” Orioles coach Tim Theisen said. “They went up and down on us.”
Little went right for the Orioles in the first half as outside shots failed to fall, and the Rebels dominated the offensive glass. Orioles senior forward Connor Kittleson got a put back to trim the Rebels lead to 38-18 at 4:03 in the first half.
It started a 6-0 run to cut the Rebel lead to 11 points. Ian Theisen, a senior forward, got a put-back; Wheeler Baker got a steal and layup at the 3:08 mark.
Such a stretch reflected the Orioles’ fight through early-season losses to high-ranked teams in DeLaSalle, Robbinsdale Armstrong and the Rebels. Senior guard Ian Smith put a lay-up in for the Rebels at the buzzer for the first half in the section final battle. Yet, the Rebels only managed to get the lead out to 12 points at 39-27 after the Orioles’ 6-0 run.
In spite of a quick 5-0 run by the Rebels to start the second half, the Orioles hit a turning point as they did earlier in the season when they beat the Rebels on Jan. 30. That nine-point win gave the Orioles hope for a March 7 showdown.
“We didn’t give up after a really slow first half,” Wheeler said.
After falling behind 44-27 in the second half of the title game, the Orioles battled their way back. Theisen began to dominate inside, and the Rebels could not stop him. He finished with a game-high 23 points.
“Ian showed why he is one of the top big guys in state,” coach Theisen said. “He wears people down, and that’s what he did tonight.”
Theisen also displayed his outside game as he scored a three-point play with a basket, foul and free throw to trim the lead to 44-32. The Rebels lead still lingered around 12, but senior guard Jordan Dembley put the Orioles within 10 on a transition basket at 13:34. A turnover at the baseline by the Rebels went in the Orioles’ favor big as Theisen buried a three and broke the double-digit lead for good, 47-40 at the 12:49 mark.
Theisen got a put back a couple possessions late to cut the Rebels lead to three, 47-44. Dembley kept the Orioles within three on a layup and free throw, 48-45 at 10:34. During that stretch, the Rebels went cold from the field, and Theisen controlled the glass.
“We didn’t let them get into the lane, and we rebounded the ball,” coach Theisen said.
After seven minutes of the Orioles keeping within 3-7 points, Theisen tied the game 59-59 on a put back at the 3:45 mark. The Orioles slowed things down offensively to run down the clock.
Baker put the Orioles ahead on a free throw for the first time since leading 7-6 in the first half. The Orioles then managed to milk the clock down to 6.5 seconds, but a turnover gave the Rebels one last shot. Rebels junior guard JT Gibson sped in for the layup, drew the foul and hit a free throw that sent the game to overtime tied at 60-60.
A three-pointer by junior guard Elliott Kane of Osseo put the Orioles up 65-60 in the extra period. Senior forward Giovanni Pastrano iced the championship for the Orioles with 3-4 free throw shooting in the last 57.3 seconds.