by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Zimmerman Thunder have faced St. Cloud Cathedral in several big games in the past year, so far always coming out on top.
Tuesday night, the Thunder basketball team repelled the Crusaders 65-60 at home to take the upper hand in the Granite Ridge Conference race.
“This was big for the seniors especially that played football, too, because we beat Cathedral for the football championship,” said Caleb Lunning, one of nine 12-graders on the roster.
“And now if we can take care of business the rest of the season we can win the basketball championship, too.”
Zimmerman is 8-1 and Cathedral 7-2 in the Granite Ridge race, with three games left. The Thunder also beat Cathedral 60-59 in December, and they have played third-place Little Falls twice, splitting.
The Thunder won the GRC football title game over Cathedral this fall, and last year beat the Crusaders in the Section 2AA basketball semifinals on the way to state.
“We got lucky. We got the bounces this time,” said Thunder coach Ben Kvidt, adding that it was also fortunate that Cathedral standout forward Scott Rucks missed the game with an ankle sprain.
“It’s one of those things,” said Kvidt about his team’s success against Cathedral. “It’s just like with us with Rogers. Rogers always gets us, and we’ve had lots of close games with them.”
Cathedral (15-5) had won 12 of its last 13, losing only to St. Cloud Tech in that span.
Zimmerman (18-4) saw a nine-point lead dwindle to three entering the final minute. But the Crusaders went cold while the Thunder made five of six free shots in the last 50 seconds, two by Lunning, one of two by Kyle Connelly and two clinchers by Corey Foyt.
Cathedral, down 63-60, missed two 3-pointers in the last 10 seconds. Foyt rebounded the second one and got fouled with five seconds left.
“We won it late in the game with good execution down the stretch,” said Kvidt. “We made five of our last six free shots, and then we win it by five. But we were a little sloppy at times, handling the ball, passing the ball, catching the ball.”
The Thunder are constantly firing off long passes in all directions on the dead run, most of them finding the mark.
“We’ve played together a long time,” grinned Lunning.
The Thunder had great balance. Jake Wilson tallied 14 points and 13 rebounds. Nate Christensen also hit 14, shooting 4-for-7, all from 3-point range. Caleb Lunning added 11, and Foyt and Gavin Doppler 9 each.
Three guards led Cathedral scoring as sophomore Brady Schmit had 19, senior Bjorn Bjorklund 12 and senior Joseph Burt 11.
“It was a good game. Zimmerman is a good team,” said Cathedral coach Nate Miller. “We knew we had to play good team defense against their transition and their perimeter shooting.
“We didn’t do a good job controlling their dribble in the first half, and we lost Christensen in the second half, and that’s what happens when you lose a good shooter.”
Cathedral has been missing 6-11 junior Conor Voss all year. He helped the Crusaders beat Grand Rapids, which has beaten Zimmerman, then had a knee injury the next game.
Zimmerman and Cathedral won’t meet in sectionals this year, as the Thunder have moved up to Class 3A. Kvidt noted, “I would not be a bit surprised if Cathedral made a big run in Section 2AA and made it to state.”
Zimmerman stats – Caleb Lunning 11 (4 reb), Brandon Smith 2, Kyle Connelly 6 (5 reb), Ethan Lunning 0 (4 ast), Jake Wilson 14 (13 reb), Nate Christensen 14 (8 reb, 3 ast), Corey Foyt 9, Gavin Doppler 9 (4 ast) … Team: 23-48 FG (5-14 3FG), 14-17 FT, 36 rebounds, 13 fouls