by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Zimmerman Thunder have reached the third round of playoffs for the first time ever, with two more wins needed to reach their stated goal.
Led by Blake Ehley with 23 points, the Thunder fended off Kimball Area 69-52 in the quarterfinals of Section 5AA on Saturday evening at St. Michael-Albertville.
“That’s the first time we’ve won two section games,” noted coach Ben Kvidt, whose Thunder won their section opener 87-42 over Eden Valley-Watkins.
The Thunder (20-8), hoping to make their first state tournament trip, now face St. Cloud Cathedral (18-10) in the Section 5AA semifinals Tuesday at STMA starting 6 p.m. Cathedral ousted Maple Lake 60-49.
In the other semifinal at 8 p.m. will be Litchfield (14-13) vs. Watertown-Mayer (19-9). Litchfield, No. 5 seed in the south, upset south No. 1 seed Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted 61-60. The section championship will be played Friday, 6:30 p.m., at St. Cloud State, the winner advancing to state.
Ehley, a senior guard averaging 11.5 points, scored often on slashing, bobbing drives to the hoop, showing excellent body control and concentration.
“It was nice to see someone else step up like that,” said Kvidt. “Brandon didn’t have too bad a game either.”
Brandon Giese, the scoring leader with over 19 per game, had just five points in the first half but finished with 16, along with six assists and six steals. Caleb and Ethan Lunning added eight points each.
Dillon Menson, a slim 6-foot-8 senior center, scored 16 points for Kimball (13-11). Neil Helgeson and Cameron Hunt scored 8 points each.
“We knew they had a good big guy, and a good point guard (Helgeson),” said Kvidt, adding that Kimball had “a good game plan” in using a zone and a zone press to slow the Thunder down.
Zimmerman led 27-21 at halftime, Kimball pulled within 31-28 early in the second half but Giese and Jake Wilson each drilled a 3-pointer to expand the lead to 37-28. The Cubs made a few more spurts but the Thunder led by at least three or four baskets the rest of the way and pulled away in the last two minutes.
As usual the Thunder’s depth wore down an opponent. Kvidt routinely substitutes five players at a time keeping everyone fresh.
Thunder scoring — Blake Ehley 23, Brandon Giese 16 (6 stl, 6 ast), Caleb Lunning 8, Ethan Lunning 8 (5 reb), Nate Christensen 6 (4 ast, 2 stl), Kyle Connelly 2, Jake Wilson 5