Clippers earn Region 3 title shot
It’s stories like the one that unfolded at the Jamestown Civic Center on Tuesday that makes Class B basketball what it is.
Clinging to a 55-53 lead with 16 seconds left to play against South Border, Aberle buried not two, but four free throws in the those final seconds to send the Clippers to the championship game by defeating the Mustangs 59-54.
Strasburg-Zeeland will meet up with Linton-HMB on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to decide who’ll represent Region 3 at this year’s state Class B tournament in Grand Forks.
“I was just thinking I’ve gotta put these through, gotta send our team to the win,” Aberle said. “It was a big game … I had to step up.”
The first one of the four was the most nerve-racking, being the front end of a bonus with his team up by just two. But the 5-10 guard calmly sank them both, as well as a pair of double bonus shots with the Clippers leading 57-54 with 3 ticks left on the clock.
“It’s just wonderful for a kid like that. You don’t know how hard that kid busts his butt every day in practice,” Strasburg-Zeeland coach Brent Kleinsasser said. “He drives 26 miles a day to get to practice by himself. I’m just happy for him.”
The Mustangs and the Clippers have quite the history over the past two seasons, playing each other for the eighth time in that span on Monday night, with the Clippers now winning six of those meetings. But it was revenge of sorts for the Clippers, who lost this very same game to the Mustangs one year ago in double-overtime, 63-54.
The last time they met up was in a semifinal game of the District 6 tournament on Feb. 15 in Linton, which the Clippers also narrowly won by the final of 48-43.
“You really just focus on the fundamentals, because that’s what it comes down to,” said South Border coach Robbie Lukens on facing a team so many times. “They executed the fundamentals better than us today.”
Both teams came out of the gate firing, combining to go 8-of-10 from 3-point range in the first period. The Clippers’ Brody Nieuwsma drained three of them and scored 10 of his game-high 16 points to help the Clippers lead 20-18 to start the second.
Nieuwsma then passed the torch to senior guard Scotti Scherr, who promptly buried 3-of-3 triple attempts in the second, as the Clippers held firm 33-30 at the half. Scherr scored 15 points and went 5-of-8 from long range, helping Strasburg-Zeeland shoot a blistering 52 percent in the opening 16 minutes.
The Mustangs were able to keep pace with three 3-pointers and 11 points from 6-foot-5 sophomore Hunter Pinke. But Pinke, guarded by 5-10 sophomore Jacob Eberle, was held to just two points over the entire second half.
“He’s still growing and maturing as a player. He jammed his finger a little bit, and he was having trouble shooting the ball,” Lukens said of Pinke. “It swelled up like a grapefruit, and we had trouble getting him the ball in the post.”
Pinke did post a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“(Pinke) wanted to shoot the 3, and when some of them big kids hit those 3s in the first half I kind of enjoy that, because then all of a sudden they think they’re 3-point shooters,” Kleinsasser said. “He was looking to get outside on us, and that’s where I wanted him.”
Turnovers then stung the Mustangs in the third. The Clippers jumped out to an eight-point (40-32) lead after forcing the Mustangs into six of their 16 turnovers early in the second half.
“I would say that was more of a key,” Lukens said of the turnovers, “giving them extra possessions in the game.”
South Border’s Adam Jacobson finished with 16 points and six rebounds.
The Clippers face Linton-HMB for a shot at state. Strasburg finished third at the state Class B in 2002, while Zeeland hasn’t appeared at the state tournament since finishing fourth in 1974.
“It’s something we’ve wanted and worked for all season,” Aberle said. “Hopefully it works out for us.”
The Clippers fell to Linton-HMB 64-51 in the District 6 title game last week.
“We want to play our game. It was fortunate we were hot tonight and the offense took over,” Kleinsasser said. “We really don’t prepare for a team. We just go out and try to execute our game plan.”
Region 3 Boys Basketball Tournament
At Jamestown Civic Center
Strasburg-Zeeland 59, South Border 54
South Border 18 30 41 54
Strasburg-Zeeland 20 33 45 59
South Border — Adam Jacobson 16, Hunter Pinke 13, Ross Knoll 13, Michael Rueb 6, Matt Kretschmar 6. Totals: 18-42 FG, 11-19 FT, 31 Rebounds (Pinke 11), 12 Fouls, 5 Assists (Jacobson 3), 16 Turnovers, 3 Blocks (Pinke 3), 3 Steals (Jacobson 2). 3-pointers: 7-12 (Pinke 3, Jacobson 3, Kretschmar 1).
Strasburg-Zeeland — Brody Nieuwsma 16, Scotti Scherr 15, Nick Kramer 14, Jacob Eberle 10, Seth Aberle 4. Totals: 21-51 FG, 9-14 FT, 24 Rebounds (Nieuwsma 6), 17 Fouls, 3 Assists (Nieuwsma 2), 9 Turnovers, 2 Blocks (2 with 1), 9 Steals (Aberle 4). 3-pointers: 8-17 (Scherr 5, Nieuwsma 3).
Records: Strasburg-Zeeland 15-8; South Border 14-10.
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org