Thunder battle back, win on senior night

Sports Reporter

by Eric Oslund

Sports Reporter

The Zimmerman Thunder boys basketball team played in their final regular season game on Thursday, March 2. It was a night where they were able to honor their seniors and end things on the right note as they go ready for the section playoffs.

They hosted 9-15 Little Falls in a game that should have come as an easy win, but it turned out to be anything but easy.

Little Falls was able to hit a three pointer to start the game and that really set the tone for what would follow. They were able to drain seven shots from beyond the arc in the first half alone, which helped give them a 30-26 lead at the intermission.

Chandler Wellman goes up and over a Little Falls defender in the second half. He'd finish with a game-high 28 points. (Photo by Eric Oslund)
Chandler Wellman goes up and over a Little Falls defender in the second half. He’d finish with a game-high 28 points. (Photo by Eric Oslund)

It got frustrating or the Thunder to see their opponents knock down everything they shot, but what was even more frustrating was that they weren’t really doing anything to stop them.

“Our communication was off,” said senior forward Chandler Wellman. “We weren’t switching correctly, so they were getting wide open shots. Got to expect them to make a lot of open shots.”

Not a whole lot changed by the time play resumed in the second half, as Little Falls was able to knock down some shots early and extend their lead. Something needed to be done, or the game was going to get out of hand.

Head coach Nathan Christensen told his players that somebody needed to step up, and Wellman was ready for the challenge. After all, it was senior night and his aunt and uncle made the trip to come watch him, he couldn’t go down without a fight.

He was able to score 20 of is game-high 28 points after the first half, and really kept the team afloat while everyone else slowly got going. Then, with a little over three minutes remaining, the Thunder were able to take their first lead of the night when senior guard Brian Rajchel was able to knock down two free throws to make it 53-52.

“Little Falls didn’t make their shots,” Christensen said with a laugh when asked what started working for his team at the end of the game. “They weren’t hitting shots finally, so I think once we hit a layup or two, and we picked up the defense for sure. But once we got the defense down, we started getting hands on passes, making them throw high, low, whatever it was. It was nice to get them out of their rhythm a little bit. I think they just can get a good shot and set, so good defense I think on our part.”

The two teams would battle back and forth for the final few minutes and when it came down to the final possession, it was Little Falls who had the ball. They called a timeout with 9.7 seconds remaining in regulation to draw up a play, but the Thunder were able to counter it perfectly.

Little Falls seemed confused as to what they were supposed to do and one of their players finally decided to drive to the basket as the clock was winding down. He put the ball up, and was able to score, but it didn’t count since senior guard Thunder Heyer was able to get in his way and draw a charge.

The Zimmerman student section celebrates after the Thunder took their first lead of the night. (Photo by Eric Oslund)
The Zimmerman student section celebrates after the Thunder took their first lead of the night. (Photo by Eric Oslund)

The game went to overtime, and from that point on it was all Thunder.

Wellman started things out to give his team a 60-58 lead and then his teammates all decided to join in the fun as the Thunder went on to win 71-61.

“We knew we had to win this game,” Wellman said afterwards. “It was the last game and it was senior night, so we were all trying hard.”

The Thunder finished the regular season with an 18-8 record, meaning they will likely be getting the No. 3 seed in their section and will play either Becker or Wilmar in the first round on Tuesday.

It will be the first time these players get a home playoff game since they have been on varsity, which is a huge advantage for them as they tend play much better at home than they do on the road.

The trick now is to refocus after such a successful regular season and get ready for the playoffs.

“Record means nothing now, it’s win or go home,” Christensen said of the playoffs. “I think they just need to get their mind on that we need to come out stronger and play like we did in overtime or the end of regulation right away. Then we can feed off of that for the rest of the game.”