March 3, 2016 at 2:59 p.m.
Chris Gargaro and the Chisago Lakes boys basketball team didn’t find much trouble in beating two different opponents for the third time this season on their way to the section championship game.
The Wildcats opened the Section 7AAA playoffs with a game against in-county rival North Branch. The rivalry was anything but this year, as Chisago Lakes dominated play for the third time.
They jumped out to a monster 50-13 lead at halftime and cruised to an 80-33 win to end the Vikings season.
If not for an errant free throw, junior Thomas Gillach nearly had a perfect shooting night. He scored 22 points by hitting his six shots, including four three pointers and going eight-for-nine from the charity stripe.
Trevin Nelson was the only other ‘Cat in double-digits with 10 points. Chisago Lakes didn’t need any particular individual to carry them, as their team onslaught was too much for North Branch.
Chisago Lakes 59, Princeton 50
In the section semi-finals, Chisago Lakes took on fourth-seeded Princeton for the third time this year.
This one was a bit closer than the earlier matchups, as CL had won both regular season games by nearly 20 points. At halftime of this game, Chisago Lakes was only up by one point.
The game was marred by some questionable refereeing on both sides of the ball. The very choppy and sloppy game favored Princeton and allowed them to hang around a bit longer than they had in previous match ups.
The ‘Cats never truly pulled away in the game but did wrap up the win 59-50.
Gillach again led the team in scoring, raining in 17 points. He’s averaging 19.5 points per game in the playoffs so far and if his game stays at this level, the Wildcats are going to be hard to beat. Ethan Hickcox netted 14 points and Dylan Wood scored 13 in the victory.
The win sent the ‘Cats to the section finals for the second year in a row. And for the second year in a row, their opponent will be the Hermantown Hawks.
This time, however, the setting is dramatically different. Last year, Hermantown was the second seed, and had nearly taken over the top spot late in the season. The game was played in Duluth, which was essentially a home contest for the Hawks, and they were led emotionally and physically by their stout senior leader Kole Zuidmulder.
This year, however, Hermantown is a sub .500 third seed that got to the section finals by upsetting second seeded Grand Rapids.
Zuidmulder graduated and is no longer the fulcrum for the Hawks. And perhaps the biggest difference is that the game will be played at Cambridge-Isanti High School, which will be more of a home game-type atmosphere for the Wildcats.
Chisago Lakes beat Hermantown by nearly 25 points early in February, so to get to state, they’ll have to finish the gauntlet of repeat opponents, something they couldn’t do last year.
The game will be Thursday, March 3 at 7 p.m. at Cambridge-Isanti High School.
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