Jackets hope to wreak havoc on section

North Branch’s Carter Whitman collides with C-I’s Austin Chromy and Alex Ledahl while driving to the basket during the teams’ game on Tuesday, Feb. 27. The Jackets topped the Vikings 62-48. Both teams now have their sights set on a run for a section championship. 

Bill Stickels III

Editor's update: The Jackets easily topped Duluth East 72-50 on Wednesday, March 7 and will now face Blaine at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 10 in Chisago Lakes.

The theme for the 2017-2018 Bluejacket boys basketball team was simple and succinct – #havoc. It also perfectly described the style of play that C-I featured throughout the year.

The Jackets offered up a high-tempo offensive attack that relied on pushing the ball up-court when the opportunity presented itself, along with frequent three-point shots. This style was brought on by a combination of necessity and having the players capable of successfully running the court.

“Our goal was to create havoc by playing fast, pressuring every possession and attempting to beat our opponents up and down the floor with defensive pressure and fast-break basketball,” said head coach Mike McDonald. “Looking at our lineup, we believed we had the perfect players to play this style.”

To accomplish this faster pace, the Jackets relied on multiple players running the offense, meaning that no player was the traditional point guard.

The season statistics bear this out. The Jackets averaged 73.1 points per game, but also gave up an average of 68.3 points per game. The team has put up 674 three-point shots, converting on 263 of them. Defensively, the Jackets caused 443 turnovers, for an average of over 17 per game.

The necessity for this style comes from the obvious lack of any “big man” on the roster. The tallest member of the team stands at 6’5”, comparatively short for the traditional center position.

This style was parlayed into a 17-8 season record and the #2 seed in the Section 7AAAA tournament. C-I played #7 Duluth East, who is coached by McDonald’s son, Rhett, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, March 7 (after this edition of the Star went to press). The Greyhounds just defeated C-I 75-60 on Friday, March 2, in Duluth. Should the Jackets reverse those results, they will face either #3 Blaine or #6 Anoka in Chisago Lakes at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 10. 

The section finals are slated for Thursday, March 15, also at Chisago Lakes.

Bombers get #4 seed, Vikings #7 seed

Braham’s 12-14 record resulted in the team receiving the #4 seed in the Section 5A South Subsection. The team will once again play conference foe East Central, who the Bombers have defeated twice this season. A win against the Eagles on Thursday, March 8, in Braham would send them to a likely collision with another familiar opponent in the form of #1 South Subsection seed Hinckley-Finlayson. The Jaguars have had the better of the Bombers on two occasions this season.

Despite the longer odds, Braham head coach Jeff Eklund feels good about his team’s chances. 

“We are defending well, and we are running good offense,” Eklund said. “If we shoot well, we could be playing a long time. Our fans and seniors deserve that. Our kids play hard the whole game. Not a game goes by where someone doesn’t comment to me about how impressed they are with the effort our kids put into the game.”

The Vikings are also somewhat familiar with their section opponents, after receiving the #7 seed in Section 7AAA. North Branch faced the Hibbing Bluejackets on Tuesday, March 6, who they lost to by a score of 64-48 in early January. This time around, the Vikings got the best of Hibbing, winning 55-52. The upset victory sends North Branch to the section semifinals in Duluth on Friday, March 9, where they will face #6 seed Hermantown. The Hawks were also upset victors, defeating #3 Duluth Denfeld 66-63. The Vikings did face Hermantown during the regular season, losing 76-51 on Feb. 22.

Should the Vikings get past the Hawks, the section finals will be on Thursday, March 15 at Duluth East.

Note: Loren Brabec contributed to the Braham portion of this article.

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