Jacket boys earn chance to defend section title

Hunter Melander goes up for an uncontested layup during C-I’s section semifinal win over Forest Lake.

The much-anticipated matchup for the Section 7AAAA boys basketball championship of Cambridge-Isanti versus Duluth East has come to fruition.

The Bluejackets and Greyhounds - the only two teams in the section to eclipse a .500 season record; with identical records of  22-4, who are separated in the QRF rankings by less than a point, who have played each other twice this year with the Jackets coming out on top by four and six points and oh, yeah, a small subplot of father versus son coaches - will meet on Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m. in Elk River, with the winner advancing to the Class AAAA state tournament.

C-I, by way of their #1 ranking in the section via coaches poll, received a first-round bye, automatically advancing them to the section semifinal game against #4 seeded Forest Lake, which was held last Saturday, March 7 in Elk River.

In that game, the Jackets jumped out to a commanding 20-point lead early in the first half and minus three mini-comebacks by the Rangers that brought the score to within 10 points, cruised to a relatively easy 92-75 win.

C-I was in top form to start the game, applying a full-court press that caused multiple Ranger turnovers that turned into either fast-break layups or a brief offensive play that resulted in one of several three-pointers. Even after the Rangers narrowed the gap briefly, the Jackets seemingly at will ramped up their “havoc” playing style to once again extend the lead to the point they could play a little ball control in an attempt to draw fouls on key Rangers players. That tactic led to a 41-25 Jacket advantage at halftime.

The second half was a little more even, with the Jackets only increasing their halftime lead by one point, however the score didn’t necessarily reflect the play. While the Rangers made some halftime adjustments that was somewhat successful in slowing down the Jackets’ at times runaway train, C-I also alternated between a more controlled offense and putting on pressure whenever needed.

The end result was a bit more of a balanced offensive statistics, with four players reaching double-digits in scoring. While Henry Abraham once again led the team with 26 points - which is lower than his season average - Connor Braaten, Hunter Melander and Micah Ladd had strong games, picking up 19, 17 and 14 points, respectively.

This brings up one more game against the team that has easily turned into one of C-I’s biggest rivals, and it’s not just because they are coached by C-I head coach Mike McDonald’s son (and former Bluejacket) Rhett. The two teams have engaged in some very spirited games over the last several years, highlighted by last year’s 77-74 overtime win for the Jackets in the section semifinals.

Should the Jackets pull off their third win over East this season, they will successfully defend their section crown and advance to their second-straight Class AAAA state tournament, which will be held at Target Center on March 18-21.

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