Fight to the finish

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 16, 2002

MANKATO – Coach Matt Addington couldn’t have asked for a better effort.

Saturday, March 16, 2002

MANKATO – Coach Matt Addington couldn’t have asked for a better effort. The fans couldn’t have asked for a better game. The Albert Lea Tigers could have used just one more basket.

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The Tigers, seeded fourth in the Section 2AAA boys’ basketball tournament, took top-seeded Waseca to overtime before falling 66-65 in a dramatic semifinal game at Minnesota State-Mankato Friday afternoon.

&uot;What a game,&uot; said Addington, the first-year head coach who guided the Tigers to a surprisingly successful 11-13 season. &uot;It’s one the kids will never forget. Even though we lost, I hope they can take some good memories from it.&uot;

They probably will.

The Tigers played with confidence, taking an early 15-4 lead before Waseca cut it to 15-9 after one quarter. Waseca led 25-23 at halftime and 38-34 after three quarters and, in the fourth, threatened to break it open with a 44-39 lead with 6:12 remaining.

But the Tigers – sparked by senior Josh Kasper – did not give in. Kasper hit four consecutive threes, putting the Tigers up 51-49 with three minutes left, but they trailed 57-55 when they called time out with 4.6 seconds on the clock. Kasper was open but he spotted Tyler Young under the basket, and his lay-up tied it at the buzzer.

The Bluejays scored the first six points in overtime but Kasper sparked another comeback with another three. A basket and a free throw by Young tied it, and a Ben Woodside lay-up put Albert Lea up 65-63 with 15 seconds left.

Waseca’s Sam Conway sank a running three-pointer with three seconds on the clock. A desperation three by Kasper was off the mark at the buzzer.

The Bluejays’ fans stormed the court as if they had won the section championship. The Tigers lingered on the court much longer than usual, hanging their heads, but received a standing ovation as they exited the court.

&uot;I told the guys, this might be the first time in a long time people in the community respect what we’re doing,&uot; said Addington. &uot;That means a lot more than a win or a loss.&uot;

Kasper finished with 26 points. Woodside scored 16, Young 13, Jordan Skophammer six, Kyle Schrad three and Tim Benesch one.

Kellen Driscoll scored 19 for Waseca. Conway had 17, Colby Swanson 14, Pat Nelson 11.

The Bluejays improved to 20-4 and advanced to Saturday’s section title game against Marshall.

The Tigers graduate seven seniors in Schrad, Kasper, Benesch, Jay Link, Corey Bowman, Scott Hoeg and Brandon Smith.