by Matthew DAvis
Osseo’s Blake Wheeler may have said it best following the Orioles’ wild comeback against the No. 1 seed Champlin Park Rebels in the Section 5 4A championship last Friday in front of a packed crowd at Rogers.
“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 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.
Rebel 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 and their guards took it to us. They are truly one of the top three teams in the state.”
Little went right for the Orioles in the first half as outside shots failed to fall, and the Rebels penetrated Osseo’s defense and 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. Senior center Ian Theisen got a put-back; 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. 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,” Baker said.
After falling behind 44-27, the Orioles went on a 17-3 run to get right back into the game. Theisen began to dominate inside, and the Rebels could not stop him.
“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 later 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 made some adjustments at halftime and we told our guards that they have to man it up and don’t let them into the lane,” coach Theisen said. “In the second half we played Osseo basketball. We didn’t let them get into the lane, so they didn’t get any easy shots. And we rebounded the ball.”
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 60-59 on a free throw for the first time since leading 7-6 in the first half. But Osseo fouled on the missed free throw and Champlin Park tied it 60-60 with one free throw and sent the game to overtime tied at 60-60.
Baker hit a running baseline shot to put Osseo up 62-60 and a three-pointer by junior guard Elliott Kane 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. Pastrano then blocked a three-point attempt and Osseo went the other way to score on Kittleson’s dunk that made it 70-64. That was the dagger and the Orioles are headed back to the state tournament.
The leading scorers for Osseo were Theisen with 23 points, Baker with 12 and Kane with 10.
Osseo, seeded fourth, opens state quarterfinal play against Shakopee at noon Wednesday, March 12 at Target Center. The winner takes on No. 1 Hopkins or Tartan in the semifinal Thursday, March 13 at 6 p.m. The state championship game is Saturday, March 15 at 8 p.m.
Contact Matthew Davis at mdavis.sunpostsports@gmailcom. Bob San contributed to this story.