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Boys Basketball: East Ridge earns fourth place at state, builds program for future

East Ridge earned fourth place in the Class AAAA state tournament as the Raptors lost 61-59 to Park Center on Saturday, March 23 at Concordia University. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 11
The East Ridge Raptors earned fourth place in the Class AAAA state tournament as the Raptors lost 61-59 to Park Center on Saturday, March 23 at Concordia University. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 11
Sophomore Kendall Brown went up for a dunk on Saturday, May 23 as East Ridge lost 61-59 to Park Center. The Raptors took fourth place in the Class AAAA state tournament. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 11
Sophomore Kendall Brown ended the game with eight points in the 71-47 loss to Hopkins on Thursday, March 21 at the Target Center. East Ridge will play Park Center for third place on Saturday, March 23. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 11
Senior Patrick Lynott watched one of his three 3-pointers go through the night as he recorded nine points. East Ridge defeated Eastview 78-41 in the state quarterfinals game on Wednesday, March 20 at the Target Center. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia 5 / 11
Senior Courtney Brown Jr. led the Raptors with 13 points in the 71-47 loss to Hopkins on Thursday, March 21 at the Target Center. East Ridge will play Park Center for third place on Saturday, March 23. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia6 / 11
Junior Ben Carlson recorded 11 points and seven rebounds. East Ridge defeated Eastview 78-41 in the state quarterfinals game on Wednesday, March 20 at the Target Center. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia 7 / 11
Senior Patrick Lynott scored nine points in the 71-47 loss to Hopkins on Thursday, March 21 at the Target Center. East Ridge will play Park Center for third place on Saturday, March 23. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia8 / 11
Senior Zach Zebrowski scored 17 points with two assists. East Ridge defeated Eastview 78-41 in the state quarterfinals game on Wednesday, March 20 at the Target Center. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia 9 / 11
Sophomore Kendall Brown had a strong night with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists. East Ridge defeated Eastview 78-41 in the state quarterfinals game on Wednesday, March 20 at the Target Center. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia 10 / 11
Senior Courtney Brown Jr. recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. East Ridge defeated Eastview 78-41 in the state quarterfinals game on Wednesday, March 20 at the Target Center. Brian Mozey / RiverTown Multimedia 11 / 11

Third-place game

Park Center 61, East Ridge 59

It might've been a third-place game, but it felt like a championship game to East Ridge.

The No. 3 seed Raptors took on the No. 1 seed Park Center Pirates for the final game of the season.

The atmosphere felt like a championship game with the final minute of the game.

About 36 seconds left in the game, Park Center led 58-56 over East Ridge and the Pirates were heading to the line. Park Center connected on one of the two shots as the Raptors grabbed the rebound.

The ball was passed to sophomore Kendall Brown who was fouled and went to the line for two free throws. Brown scored the first free throw, but missed the second.

Before the Raptors players and coaches or the East Ridge crowd could react, Brown grabbed his own miss and went up for a layup to tie the game at 59 a piece. The Raptors crowd came back to life as Park Center took a timeout with only eight second left on the clock.

The Pirates inbounded the ball and Tommy Chatman found the ball in his hands. He went to his right and pulled up on a fade-away jump shot. As he let go, the crowd, coaches and players looked up at the ball as it fell through the net and the Pirates won the game with a 61-59 final score.

"Both teams came out fighting hard knowing it was their last game of the season," said head coach Bryce Tesdahl. "It was a hard-fought game, but Park Center was able to connect on the final shot."

For Tesdahl, it was similar to the Hopkins loss on Thursday as the Raptors couldn't get on one big scoring streak and it allowed Park Center to stay in the game. The Pirates started the game with a 9-0 run, but East Ridge was able to make it a three-point deficit at the half.

Brown led the Raptors with 18 points, while junior Ben Carlson ended the night with 14 points. Seniors Courtney Brown Jr., Patrick Lynott and Zach Zebrowski each scored 13, nine and five points respectively.

This game ended Brown Jr., Lynott and Zebrowski's high school basketball careers and Tesdahl couldn't thank them enough for their hard work and dedication to the East Ridge program.

"This senior class handled themselves the right way all the time on and off the court," Tesdahl said. "I couldn't be more proud of their commitment to the program and their leadership all season as a strong senior class. They will be missed next season."

This season concludes Tesdahl's second season at East Ridge after coming from New Prague before the 2017-18 season. The amount of growth has been substantial in his eyes, but he knows the goal will always be to win a conference, section and state championship each season.

This year, the Raptors were able to complete two goals with a conference and section title, so the next goal is to earn that state title. During the preseason of the 2018-19 season, the players had the loss against Cretin-Derham Hall in the back of their mind at the 2017-18 section title game.

That memory stayed in their mind all season and helped the Raptors earn the victory over the Raiders in the section title game this season. This gave East Ridge its first trip to the state tournament in program history.

Tesdahl said he has a feeling the loss against Hopkins in the state tournament will stay in the players' minds as they prepare for AAU basketball and the upcoming offseason.

"Next year will be a different team with younger players, but there is a lot of talent," Tesdahl said. "I'm excited to see this new wave of players and continuing to build this program."

Out of the starting five throughout this past season, only two will stay in that lineup as Brown and Carlson are the only non-seniors. Tesdahl used a couple of players off the bench consistently this season, so there will be some new faces in the lineup next season.

Tesdahl will look to Brown and Carlson for leadership next season, but he's excited because all of these players have bought into the process and understand what it takes to get to Target Center at the end of the season.

"There are a lot of teams that are talented in this state," Tesdahl said. "We have talent, but we also focus on hard work. The days in the weight room or at practices that people don't see. Those are the days that make a team stronger and I know this upcoming team will work just as hard as last year's team to reach our goals as a program."

State semifinals

Hopkins 71, East Ridge 47

East Ridge just needed one run and the Raptors would be back in this game. Head coach Bryce Tesdahl and the players kept pushing the pace, but that run was never able to form.

The No. 2 seed Hopkins was always able to convert at their basket to stop any run East Ridge was trying to form. This helped the Royals earn a 71-47 victory over the Raptors in the state semifinals on Thursday night.

"I think we were just one run away," Tesdahl said. "We could never just make that run, which we've done all season to get six or eight points in a row... we were just put into a position late in the game that we're not usually in and it's a credit to Hopkins, it's not a discredit to our guys at all."

It was a tale of two different halves. The first half was a back-and-forth game as both teams found a few baskets to keep it a close game. Hopkins led 26-24 at the half.

Once the second half started, the Royals went on a 7-0 run to open up the game. That run sparked some momentum for Hopkins as the Royals continued to extend that lead to 10 points at the 10-minute mark.

Then, the lead pushed to 12 at the six-minute mark and finally a 16-point lead at four and a half minutes left in the game. At the end, Hopkins finished with a 24-point victory.

"It was a tough night on the offensive end," said junior Ben Carlson. "We normally hit those shots and tonight we weren't hitting them It was a tough night offensively."

Tesdahl said the first half was good defensively for the Raptors, but East Ridge just needed to connect on a few more baskets offensively. The team would go on small runs in the first half with a couple 3-pointers or a handful of fast break points, but longer runs never occurred for either team in the first half.

There was one name in particular that East Ridge was trying to stop throughout the end of the first half and the entire second half. That name was Zeke Nnaji.

The 6-foot-11 senior made a presence down in the paint. He had 21 field goal attempts and connected on 10 of them. He finished the game with a team-high 23 points.

Hopkins had a game plan and that was to feed Nnaji in the paint and allow him to score early and often. East Ridge changed their game plan by double teaming Nnaji, but the Royals guards caught fire.

Jalen Dearring, Andy Stafford and Kerwin Walton all scored in double digits for the Royals. They combined for four 3-pointers and a total of 40 points.

In the first game of the regular season, these two teams played against each other. In that game, Hopkins didn't have Walton to play and he made his presence in this game on Thursday night.

"We definitely struggled on the offensive end and we couldn't really get in the flow," said senior Courtney Brown Jr. "It made things a little more difficult in terms of finding the flow."

Brown Jr. led the Raptors on Thursday night with 13 points, while Patrick Lynott was right behind him with nine points. Kendall Brown had eight points, while Ben Carlson and Zach Zebrowski finished with six points each. Carlson also led the team with nine rebounds and Zebrowski led the Raptors with seven assists.

Even though it was a hard loss, Tesdahl couldn't be more proud of this team and what they were able to accomplish this season. Now, his goal is to finish the season out strong on Saturday in the third-place game.

"When you think about what we've done as a program this year and these kids, they've changed the program in a positive manner," Tesdahl said. "These kids are a great group of kids that have bought in together. We have talented kids, we have respectable kids, we have a great group of kids that bring it everyday."

East Ridge will play No. 1 seed Park Center on Saturday, March 23 at 4 p.m. at Concordia University-St. Paul for the third-place game.

State quarterfinals

East Ridge 78, Eastview 41

Eastview took a timeout with 14:40 left in the first half as East Ridge went on a 9-0 run to start the game. A different reaction came from the starters and the bench for the Raptors.

A deep breath from the starters.

A loud cheer from the bench.

Being on the biggest stage at the boys basketball state tournament, it was a relief for the starters to get on the board early and often. The bench started with loud cheering and continued that throughout the entire game until East Ridge ended the game with a 78-41 victory.

"[The 9-0 run] allowed us to take our time and run our offense," said senior Courtney Brown Jr. "Then, it allowed us to focus on our defense too to keep that lead."

After that 9-0 run for the Raptors, it seemed like East Ridge was never going to let go of the lead. Not only did the Raptors keep the lead, they extended it with every minute of the game.

The lead went to 11 with 10 minutes left and 15 with two minutes left until halftime came and East Ridge led 32-17.

Head coach Bryce Tesdahl said he found out on Saturday about East Ridge's opening matchup against Eastview. From Saturday until today, Tesdahl watched film on the Lightning every minute he could to prepare for Eastview.

The one thing he learned during this time was how East Ridge needed to focus on defense in the quarterfinals game.

"Once we found out who we were playing, I think I watched Eastview 13 times," Tesdahl said. "I knew our guys would be prepared and they followed the scouting report and the game plan really, really well. I'm just so proud of our guys because they played well on both ends of the floor and we got the result that we wanted."

Eastview averaged about 64.8 points per game during the regular season. East Ridge minimized the Lightning's scoring to 17 points in the first half and 24 points in the second half to total 41 points in the game.

Senior guard Zach Zebrwoksi said the Raptors worked together on Wednesday night to stop Eastview and contest the Lightning's baskets. Brown Jr. also added how crucial post defending was on Wednesday night as the Raptors minimized the big men on Eastview to score.

"I think Tesdahl made a really good scouting report," Zebrowski said. "If we keep following the scouting report, our defense will always be exceptional."

After a dominating win in the quarterfinals, East Ridge will bring confidence and momentum into the semifinals game against No. 2 seed Hopkins on Thursday, March 21 at 8 p.m.

The Royals also had a strong quarterfinals game with a 86-53 win over Cambridge-Isanti on Wednesday. The matchup between East Ridge and Hopkins will not be the first one of the season as the two teams faced off to start the 2018-19 season.

The Raptors earned the 74-65 win over the Royals on Dec. 1 as Kendall Brown led the team with 26 points. Brown Jr. was right behind his brother with 17 points, while Ben Carlson and Zebrowski each scored 15 and 13 points respectively.

East Ridge had a similar pattern on Wednesday night against Eastview and they hope it continues into Thursday's game. The starting five scored 72 of the 78 points on Wednesday with Brown Jr. leading the team with 18 points.

Zebrowski and Brown each scored 17 points, while Carlson finished with 11 points and Patrick Lynott had nine points. Along with the scoring, the starting five also worked together to grab many rebounds.

On Wednesday, East Ridge had 38 rebounds and the starting five recorded 30 of those rebounds. Brown Jr. finished the game with a double-double as he ended with 10 rebounds, while Brown was close with nine rebounds. Carlson also ended the game with seven rebounds.

"Our team chemistry has been really strong all season long and no one on our team cares about who scores," Zebrowski said. "The ball movement is really exceptional right now."

The biggest takeaway on Wednesday night from both the coaches and the players was the field goal percentage both offensively and defensively.

The Raptors shot 30-for-48 in the game, which equals 62.5 percent from the field. They also shot 60 percent, 9-for-15, from the 3-point line.

East Ridge had a strong night defensively as the Raptors kept Eastview to 36.4 percent from the field or 16-for-44. Along with the field goal percentage, the Lightning shot only 25 percent from the 3-point line.

Tesdahl said he was happy with East Ridge's defensive effort and how that needs to continue into Thursday's game against Hopkins.

"We're going to need to have every player that steps on the floor ready to compete," Tesdahl said. "When you get into the semifinals, it's going to be scratch and claw for every point and every defensive stop. I trust our guys and we've worked hard to get to this point."

East Ridge and Hopkins will play at 8 p.m. at the Target Center on Thursday, March 21. The winner of the semifinal game will play the winner of the Park Center and Lakeville North game on Saturday, March 23 at 8 p.m. at the Target Center.

The loser of the semifinal game will play in the third-place game on Saturday, March 23 at 4 p.m. at Concordia University-St. Paul.

"I'm glad that we get to experience this moment, especially as a senior," Brown Jr. said. "It's fun to be with this group of guys."

Brian Mozey

I am the sports writer for the Woodbury Bulletin and South Washington County Bulletin. I'm a graduate from the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Iowa State University and have always had a passion for sports since a young age. Whether it was watching or playing sports, I always knew sports would be in my career. I've been born and raised in the suburbs of Minneapolis and look forward to continuing to learn more about the Woodbury and Cottage Grove area throughout my time in this position. 

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