This past weekend marked the end of my month-long swing through the state tournaments of Wisconsin and Minnesota as I traveled down to Minneapolis to shoot the Grand Rapids boys basketball team play for the Class AAA championship. The Thunderhawks, despite being ranked third, did not earn one of the top four seeds. The logic behind that was they hadn’t won a first-round game the last five times they made it to state. They took that as a slight and played like they had a chip on their shoulder.
They got over their first-round demons with a 70-61 victory over the No. 3 seed Benilde St. Margaret’s. That set up a semifinal against the No. 2 seed DeLaSalle. This was a game that was back and forth from the opening tip until the final buzzer. It would take two overtimes for Grand Rapids to pull out the 57-53 victory and advance to the first state title game in team history. However, that meant they would have to play St. Paul Johnson.
Johnson had defeated the top-ranked team in the large-school division earlier this year making their claim as the best basketball team in the state. Nationally, the Governors were ranked 42nd and their stock was rising with each week. While it took Grand Rapids two overtimes to get to the finals, the Governors won by 25 in their semifinal game and 43 in their opening round contest. On paper, it didn’t look like it was going to be close. Urban vs. rural. Top-dog vs. underdog. David vs. Goliath. But that’s why they play them.
In the championship match, each team held big leads–Grand Rapids by six and St. Paul Johnson by nine. Late in the second half, it looked like Johnson was pulling away as they carved out a 10-point lead, but Grand Rapids thundered back to bring it to within one with 30 seconds to go. They got the ball on a missed Governors’ shot, but were unable to get a shot off as Johnson forced a turnover. Grand Rapids ended up losing 59-55, but to play that close in a game that nobody was giving them a chance showed that this team belonged in the championship–seeded or not.
Here are a few photos from my time at the Target Center. I’m now going to be transitioning into the wedding season so we’ll start seeing some more wedding and engagement blog posts.
Stacy Perreault (center) prays during the second of two Grand Rapids' free throws with classmates Gabby Menges (left, holding sign) and Christian Adams (right, jersey #22) in the second half of the Thunderhawks' game against DeLaSalle during the Class AAA state semifinal game.
LEFT: Grand Rapids' Austin Pohlen (left) fights for possession of the ball with DeLaSalle's Bretson McNeal (right, 25) during their Class AAA state semifinal game. RIGHT: Winona's Anthony Inman (23) bowls over St. Paul Johnson's Anthony Lee (right, 1) during a Class AAA semifinal game.
Grand Rapids' Austin Pohlen (right, 23) begins to celebrate the Thunderhawks' victory over DeLaSalle in the final seconds during the Class AAA state semifinal game.
DeLaSalle's Jonah Travis (middle, white jersey) runs into a stiff Grand Rapids' defense that included Michael Johnson (3), Brian Akre (left, 53) and Kevin Rabbers (2nd from right, 43) during the Class AAA state semifinal game.
Grand Rapids' Michael Johnson slips on the floor in the first half of the Thunderhawks game against DeLaSalle during the Class AAA state semifinal game,
LEFT: Grand Rapids' Eric Stark (left, 25) goes up for two and the foul against St. Paul Johnson's Demitri Conwell (right, 4) during the Class AAA state finals. RIGHT: Grand Rapids' Eric Stark (right) has a shot blocked by St. Paul Johnson's Maxie Rosenbloom (left) in the second half of the Thunderhawks 59-55 loss to the Governors in the Class AAA state finals.
Grand Rapids' Austin Pohlen (23) smiles while looking at the Thunderhawks' student section seconds after they defeated DeLaSalle in the Class AAA state semifinal game.
LEFT: St. Paul Johnson's Roosevelt Scott (left) slams one home while teammate Jordan Pluff (right, 42) in the first half of a game against Winona during the Class AAA semifinal game. RIGHT: St. Paul Johnson's Jordan Pluff (center, 42) is fouled in the first half of the Governors' game against Grand Rapids during the Class AAA state finals.
Grand Rapids' Michael Johnson (left) and Brian Akre (right) put on the defense against St. Paul Johnson's Anthony Lee (center) during the Class AAA state finals.
Grand Rapids senior Ryan Dumm cheers on the Thunderhawks during introductions before their game against St. Paul Johnson in the Class AAA state finals.
LEFT: Grand Rapids' Brian Akre gets pumped up after scoring two and being fouled in the first half of the Thunderhawks' 59-55 loss to St. Paul Johnson in the Class AAA state finals. RIGHT: Grand Rapids' Brian Akre (53) goes high to defend St. Paul Johnson's Roosevelt Scott (center) while Thunderhawk Kevin Rabbers (right) defends down low during the Class AAA state finals.
Members of the Grand Rapids boys basketball team including Kevin Rabbers (left, 43), Michael Johnson (2nd from left, 3) and Brian Akre (center, hand up) console each other after their 59-55 loss to St. Paul Johnson in the Class AAA state finals.