by Eric Oslund
The Zimmerman Thunder boys basketball team headed into their section semifinal matchup against Rocori with a ton of confidence. They were coming off one of their best games of the season, a 74-52 win over Becker in the quarterfinals, and they also had a great week of practice. They were ready.
The game remained close throughout the entire first half. Zimmerman scored first to take a 2-0 lead, but Rocori quickly tied it up and then jumped out to a lead of their own. But the Thunder once again found themselves in the driver’s seat with 12:37 remaining before halftime, taking a 7-5 lead.
They worked that up to a 10-7 lead, but then Rocori once again found themselves on top with 6:30 remaining in the half. Though, what really allowed Rocori to take the lead was some interesting play by the Thunder offense.
Thunder Heyer is one of the team’s top scorers, and he found himself in foul trouble with about 8:00 remaining in the first half, which caused head coach Nathan Christensen to put him on the bench. While Heyer was out, the team was supposed to kill a lot of time, but still attack the basket.
They were able to burn a lot of the clock, but the offense seemed really hesitant once Heyer left the game. That led to a lack of scoring on the part of Zimmerman, and it also allowed Rocori to create some turnovers, which led to fast-break points, and put them back on top.
“We wanted to kill a lot of time off the clock since Thunder was out of the game,” Christensen began. “He was our main guy to get to the middle of the lane and make something happen. So once he got that second foul, we wanted to start killing a lot of clock, but guys couldn’t really handle it.”
Despite all that, the Thunder were still in the game at the break, trailing 18-12.
But once they retook the court, one of their other key players, Chandler Wellman, quickly found himself in foul trouble and Christensen was forced to sit him too. Both Wellman and Heyer were forced to be cautious when on the floor, and that, coupled with shots not falling all game, really affected the Thunder’s confidence on offense.
Players seemed to prefer to pass the ball to a teammate instead of take control of the game, and it’s never a good thing when that starts to happen.
“First half, we shot 5-of-20, so that was rough,” Christensen explained. “I think they kind of got down, they all got down, just because they weren’t making shots. It’s kind of one of those things where it’s like, ‘You take over. No, you take over.’ They kept going down the line and no one really stepped up to score, or to act.”
The Thunder did their best to battle for the remainder of the game, but Rocori was eventually able to pull away, winning 56-40.
It was not the way the team was hoping to end the season, but Christensen made it a point to say this loss can’t takeaway from the success his team had all year long, and the strides they were able to take.
“It was a great year,” he said. “Didn’t get to where we wanted to be, but the first winning record since 2012, so it’s been awhile. It’s good for these guys, they worked for it. It was a very good season.”
The trick for the team now is to carry that success into the offseason and then come back better than ever and improve next year.
Though, it will be difficult to do as they will be losing a number of talented seniors that really helped turn the program back around: Heyer, Wellman, Brian Rajchel, Isaac Fordahl, Dylan Olerich and Alex Russell.
“Good leaders, worked hard in the offseason, did everything they could but just came up short,” Christensen said of the departing seniors. “Hopefully the underclassmen step up and do the same, just keep repeating it.”