Boys basketball team loses to Owatonna in section final
Since November, the entire boys basketball season was focused on one really important date: March 19. That was the night that, if all went as planned, the Hastings boys basketball team would play in the section finals.
Hastings emerged from the regular season with a 12-13 record. Not bad, considering the Raiders played in a brutally tough Suburban East Conference, and played a challenging non-conference schedule. Hastings earned a No. 2 seed in the section tournament and won its first two section tournament games, advancing to the section finals.
Everything was proceeding exactly as planned.
What happened Friday night, though, didn't follow the plan.
Hastings lost in the section finals, 55-51, to Owatonna at the Rochester Civic Center Friday night.
"It was probably one of the poorer games we have played in the last month," Hastings coach Chad Feikema said. "We've been on a steady climb and had improved throughout the year. For whatever reason, we didn't play up to our capability in this particular game.
"Part of it could have been just nerves and being on the big stage, so to speak. It was the biggest game any of our guys have ever played in. They'd never been in that environment before."
Hastings came out slow and trailed at the end of the first half, 28-21.
"Particularly in the first half, I thought we played kind of tight offensively. We just didn't find any rhythm on the offensive end early. We just were not ourselves. We didn't play the way we had been playing."
In the second half, though, Hastings got its offense going. The Raiders went on a run to start the second half and took a 36-35 lead. Owatonna fought back and built up a 49-42 lead, but a steal and layup by Darius Wilkerson and some strong outside shooting from Mike Hill closed the gap to 53-50.
Owatonna brought the ball up the court and it appeared a Huskie player traveled at midcourt. Officials saw it otherwise and Owatonna quickly called a timeout. Strong Hastings defense, though, prevented the Huskies from even getting the ball across halfcourt. Owatonna wasn't able to get the ball across halfcourt in 10 seconds, and they were whistled for a violation.
On its ensuing possession, Hastings got the ball to senior Shane Monjeau, who was fouled inside. He made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 53-51 with about 40 seconds to play.
Hastings was whistled for a foul on Huskies' guard Vaughn Thada during Owatonna's next possession. Thada made both free throws, and Owatonna went up 55-51 with 24 seconds left on the clock.
Hastings ran a play and ended up getting the ball inside to senior Nick Gmiterko, who went up for a shot right under the basket. The ball was knocked out of his hands by an Owatonna defender, and officials called a jump ball. Hastings got the ball back with 9.1 seconds to play, but couldn't get a shot to fall.
"When that final horn sounds, at that moment, it feels like all the air had been sucked out of you," Feikema said. "You spend four months working toward something, then it ends very suddenly."
Owatonna's trip to the section finals was the team's fourth straight. That experience no doubt had a role in their win.
"Certainly, Owatonna deserves credit," Feikema said. "They're a good defensive team."
Qualifying for the section finals is something few teams from Hastings have done, and Feikema suspects that in a few weeks, the success of this year's team won't be lost on its players.
"As a coach, at this point, so close to having it happen, there's disappointment," Feikema said. "In a week or two, I'll take a step back and look at our season as having been a successful season. We improved throughout the year. We were playing our best basketball at the end of the season.
"I'm proud of our guys. I'm proud of our team. We remained focused throughout the year and essentially reached the Sweet 16 of Class 4A. When I worded it to the guys that way after the Century game, you could see their eyes light up a little bit. They realized where they were at."
Gmiterko, playing in his last game for Hastings, said this wasn't how he wanted to go out.
"We were pretty disappointed," Gmiterko said. "I think we had a good chance coming into the game. We didn't play as well as we could have. It was a close game, and they came out on top.
"I had a good career, but yeah, I definitely didn't want to go out like that. It would have been nice to be the first team from here to go to state.
"That's been our goal all season - to make Hastings history. It just didn't happen like that."
Feikema thinks part of the rough night could be attributed to the fact that Hastings was on spring break leading into the game.
"We were out of our routine," Feikema said. "All year, you go to school, you go to practice, you go to school and you have a game. This week, we sat around our houses all week while everyone's friends were in Florida or Mexico. How much of an effect that had, I don't know, but it was probably a contributing factor. Our guys had a lot of time to sit at home and think about the game."
Hastings will graduate seven players from the roster, including three three-year starters.
Monjeau and Gmiterko each scored 1,000 points in their high school careers and will graduate.
Mike Hill, another three-year starter, will graduate.
Dan Guelle, who saw considerable playing time all season, will graduate.
"They leave some big shoes to fill," Feikema said. "Those guys are going to be missed. "The thing I enjoyed the most about them is that they were good teammates. They were good leaders. They led by example, by playing hard, and they were always encouraging their teammates in practice. Their performance on the court will be missed, obviously. I was just really proud of their leadership this year in practice and in games."
Also graduating will be Bryce Gergen, Jake Cox and Josh Harstad.
Hastings will return two starters to next year's team, including junior Tony Hammes and sophomore Darius Wilkerson. Ellis Williams, a guard, also saw considerable play time this year as a sophomore.
"We do have three guys who got a lot of playing time this year," Feikema said. "We have some guys with promise, but they've got to put in the time."
Monjeau scored a game-high 23 points. Hill finished with 11. Gmiterko had 7, Wilkerson had 4, Hammes had 4 and Guelle had 2.