DULUTH — There’s always a concern going into any game, but Hibbing High School boys basketball coach Joel McDonald was a little more worried about Duluth Denfeld.
The Hunters have both size and athleticism, and that can be a recipe for success.
The Bluejackets, however, watched their girls team advance to state on Thursday, and that’s a goal they want for their team, too.
Using that as motivation, Hibbing withstood challenge after Hunter challenge and came away with a 68-57 victory over Denfeld Friday in a Section 7AAA semifinal contest at the Duluth East High School Gymnasium.
McDonald knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“They’re too big and athletic,” McDonald said. “That was a concern of ours, and they did a good job taking advantage of us. They caught us sleeping for what seemed to be every single time. We were sleeping and resting on defense.
“They burned us. They played tough, and we had our hands full. We finished the game with a nice run. That’s what we were waiting for. We had one at the beginning, but the middle 25 minutes was scary. We’ll take the way this one ended for us.”
The Bluejackets started fast as Ayden McDonald connected on eight points, and it was 13-2, but the Hunters were just starting to get going.
Denfeld worked the ball inside and went on a 12-0 run to take a one-point lead, then the game see-sawed from there, with Luke Lundell hitting a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give Hibbing a 30-26 lead.
“We started out doing things well defensively, then we gave up some baskets in the paint, which is what we were trying to guard other than (Josh) Reinertsen,” McDonald said. “He’s a problem from the perimeter.
“Will (Durie) did a great job on him today. He didn’t give him a whole lot of good looks from the outside. For the most part, we got the stops when we needed to. We executed on offense when we needed to.”
The Hunters came out with a quick run to start the second half, but the Bluejackets started heating up from the 3-point line,
Mayson Brown and McDonald hit two each, and Will Durie hit one, coupled with a three-point play by Eli Erickson, and Hibbing had a 51-41 lead with 9:40 to play.
The Hunters cut the deficit to four with just over six minutes to play, but in a span of two minutes McDonald hit a deuce, then Brown connected for five points and it was 63-52.
Denfeld never recovered from that as the Bluejackets made four free throws and one basket in the final three minutes to advance into the championship contest.
“Ayden has been shooting the ball well lately,” McDonald said. “He didn’t have the lift coming off of his injury. Now, he’s feeling good and that’s indicative of his shooting. He distributes so well, too, that people have to guard the pass.
“Mayson got himself open, and he did what he’s known to do, knock down some good corner threes. That was big stretch for us, and that one for Parker to throw one down that got everybody jacked up.”
McDonald led Hibbing with 18 points, followed by Brown and Maki with 14 each and Lundell, 10.
Joe Cvancara had 22 for Denfeld. Amon Freeman finished with 15.
“We got ourselves to where everybody thought we might be, on paper, at the beginning,” McDonald said. “This one for everything to move on to the next step.”
DD 26 31 — 57
HHS 30 38 — 68
Duluth Denfeld: Amon Freeman 15, Antonio Mack 5, Josh Reinertsen 8, Joe Cvancara 22, Donny Northcutt 3, Erik Nelson 4.
Hibbing: Mayson Brown 14, Parker Maki 14, Eli Erickson 8, Luke Lundell 10, Will Durie 3, Ayden McDonald 18.
Total Fouls: Duluth Denfeld 15; Hibbing 17; Fouled Out: Freeman, Nelson; Free Throws: Duluth Denfeld 10-14; Hibbing 6-12; 3-pointers: Mack, Reinertsen 2, Cvancara, Brown 3, Maki, Lundell 2, McDonald 5.