North Woods locks down Wolves and second 7A title

ELY FANS in the stands brought signs and cheered for the Timberwolves during the Section 7A championship game played in Hibbing. Photo by Eric Sherman.

by Tom Coombe -

The North Woods Grizzlies are known for their impressive arsenal of offensive weapons.
But their defense may be even better.
The Ely Timberwolves found that out the hard way in last Saturday’s Section 7A finals, when North Woods held them to only one basket in the first 11 minutes of a 70-38 romp at the Hibbing Memorial Arena.
North Woods (29-1), which successfully defended its 7A title and earned a second straight trip to state, took the upset-minded Wolves out of their game from the opening tip.
Ely, which finished 25-5, got few open looks at the basket as the Grizzlies steered the Wolves far away from the basket.
A couple of Brendan Parson three-pointers gave North Woods a 14-3 lead just seven minutes into the game and the Grizzlies, who had 24 turnovers in a sloppy semifinal win over Lake-view Christian Academy, never looked back.
“I thought the only way we had a chance was them to come out tight as they seemed to be against Lake-view,” said Ely Head Coach Tom McDonald. “But they weren’t tight at all and their defense was just suffocating.”
Guards Patrick Vanderbeek and Carter Gaulke combined for 51 points in the Wolves’ 73-51 semifinal victory over Wrenshall, but the Grizzlies’ man-to-man defense made life miserable for Ely’s dynamic duo in the final.
Vanderbeek had to rush his only two three-point attempts in the first 12 minutes, while Gaulke was pestered whenever he had the ball.
North Woods, meanwhile, allowed the Wolves few second shots and the Grizzlies built their lead.
Parson, who led North Woods with 18 points, knocked down three three-pointers in the opening half, while junior guard Cade Goggleye scored nine of his 11 points in the opening stanza, as North Woods built a 40-13 by the break.
Trevor Morrison added damage inside and the Grizzlies allowed only five Ely field goals the entire half.
It was a different North Woods defense than the one Ely saw in mid-December, when it stayed within 10 points of the champions until the closing minutes of an 87-59 defeat.
“We could not generate anything against them and everything we ran they switched screens so well and couldn’t get any open looks,” said McDonald. “Their defense was much better on Saturday than in December and in December they played some zone to allow us some better looks. Their defense definitely frustrated us and we couldn’t do the things we wanted to do.”
The second half was anti-climactic, as the crowd of about 1,200 people counted down to the final horn as the Grizzlies celebrated their second section title.
The final four minutes were played in running time.
Parson, Morrison (16 points) and Goggleye all finished in double digits for North Woods, which grabbed the number-two seed in the Class A field and took on Heritage Christian Academy in the quarterfinals.
The tournament runs through Saturday at Target Center in Minneapolis, and McDonald believes the Grizzlies have a chance to improve on their second-place finish from 2017.
“I do think they have a shot at winning it all if they continue to play like that,” he said. “They are so balanced and athletic.”
A Section 7A team has not won the state tournament since 1991, when Chisholm finished first.
Vanderbeek scored 14 points, sophomore Dylan Fenske added 10, and Gaulke had five points for six assists for the Wolves, who finished a surprising season.
It included 25 victories, the most since the 2013-14 team finished 27-2, and the first visit to a 7A final since 2001.
Ely was the surprise team in 7A this winter after dropping its first playoff game last winter.
“I thought it was a great season, said McDonald. “Our team really came together and played very well down the stretch. It will be difficult to replace what Carter and Blaise (Lah) did for us on the floor.”
Gaulke finished with 1,605 career points, third-most in school history behind Tim Scott and Jim Herberg.
The point guard also set a new school record by making 142 free throws this season, the most since Bob Berrini sank 139 in 1964.