Thursday, March 22, 2012

100 Years of Minnesota High School Tournament Basketball: Best Games

The MSHSL has been running a historical feature celebrating the 100th year of tournament basketball for the past 2 months. You can see them on its Web site at (then click on 100 Yrs of BB. Scroll down to the bottom of the column for links to past features.)

The final 2 installments cover the top boys games and the top girls games in tournament history. In the interest of full disclosure, I helped to pick the top games, players, coaches, etc., so it's a little late to complain now. Still, the group didn't agree with my every whim and wish. So what I am doing here is listing my own picks of the top 10 games ever--both boys and girls, all mushed together in one list.

1. Wabasso 117 Red Lake 113 (OT), 1997 boys Class A semi-final. Just a completely incredible game, even without Gerald Kingbird's fantastic finish (13 points in one minute to force OT). I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. In fact, I did see it with my own eyes, and I'm still not sure I believe it.

2. Edgerton 63 Richfield 60 (OT), 1960 boys semi-final. This was the game that made the Edgerton legend. The final was an afterthought.

3. New York Mills 61 Albany 52, 1979 girls Class A final. The MSHSL underplayed this one. This put girls basketball on the map. Karvonen vs. Skalicky was like Ali-Frazier, Bird and Magic. Yes, it was Magic. Girls ball was never the same.

4. Hopkins 71 Eastview 60 (OT), 2005 boys Class AAAA final. Already a greeeeaaaat game before Hoffarber's unbelievable shot.

5, Lynd 58 Crosby-Ironton 47, 1946 boys quarter-final. Lynd was the 1st team ever to run a modern fast break in the state high school tournament, and they ran on every possession if they could. No one had ever seen such a thing, least of all heavily favored (#2 rated) C-I. They had no inkling of what they were running into, and ended up taking 3 timeouts in the 1st quarter to catch their breath.

6, Buhl 41 Mpls. Edison 32, 1936 boys quarter-final. Way back in the day when 20 percent was a "good" shooting percentage, Buhl upset #1 rated, undefeated Edison by shooting an unheard of 50 percent.

7. Rochester Mayo 78 Bloomington Jefferson 70, 1997 girls Class AAAA semi-final. Mayo, led by Coco and Kelly Miller, came from way behind in the 4th quarter in the highest scoring game in the girls tournament to that time.

8. Gaylord 13 Gilbert 9, 1926 boys final. It's funny. When people complained about the lack of action in basketball back in the 1920s and 1930s, they're talking about games like this one. But nobody cared. When Gaylord pulled its 3rd straight upset, it was as if every small town had won (except Gilbert, of course). Fans were so excited that when a hat was passed among the crowd in the Kenwood Armory lobby to help pay Gaylord's way to the national tournament in Chicago, the not untidy sum (in those days) of $500 was raised.

9. Osseo 66 Rochester Mayo 58, 1996 girls Class AA semi-final. As in 1960, the final was an afterthought. Oh, but wait, Hastings defeated Osseo in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. Still most old-timers prefer this game to the Osseo-Mayo game of the following year. I am in the minority on this one.

10. Marshall 75 Cloquet 74, 1963 boys final. Like Wabasso and Lynd, Cloquet was one of those rare teams that liked to fast break on every possession. So why is it that such a team has never won on Saturday night? There's a terrific photo of Cloquet's Dave Meisner crying on the shoulder of Marshall's John Nefstead just after the final buzzer.

And now 2 more just for good measure. Honorable Mention, we'll call it.

11. Bloomington Jefferson 60 Hibbing 51, 1976 boys Class AA final. Lingenfelter vs. McHale. Lingenfelter outplayed McHale for the 2nd straight year (it was in a consolation final the previous year). Most thought Lingenfelter the better player. Their college and pro careers didn't bear that out, I guess.

12. Fosston 29 Mountain Lake 27, 1913 boys final. Not so much the game, though by all accounts it was well played.

But the point is that the inaugural tournament was an experiment. Nobody knew how it would come off, or if it would come off at all. It was a smashing success. So much so that it was announced immediately afterwards that there would not only be a tournament in 1914, but permanently thereafter. How could they know it would be "permanent"? We know that it is and has been "permanent." But its founders and the participants all seemed to understand that they had created something special, and reports from 1913 indicate that an incredibly positive spirit was shared by all. Wouldn't it be fun to go back in our time machine (if only we had one) to experience that spirit? Well, on the other hand, maybe we have and maybe we do experience that spirit, even if only now and again, as when Wabasso and Red Lake delighted us so indescribably, or when Edgerton gave us all that attitude adjustment in 1960, or when Hoffarber drained that totally impossible shot in 2005. Maybe. Or maybe we experience it, to some degree at least, every year, every tournament.

But I'd still like to go back and see for sure. Is the tournament of today more or less what they had in mind? Have we (everyone associated with the tournament over the succeeding 99 years) lived up to the hopes of its founders? Would they approve of what their tournament (and ours) has become? I think yes. It would be fun to go back and share in the spirit of 1913. But it would be fun to share with them, insofar as mere words can convey it, the spirit of these ensuing 99 years. I think yes, I think they would approve. Congrats to all on 100 years of ethical play. Not a slam dunk, but you did it.

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