Despite the below zero temperatures outside of East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minnesota, on Saturday, the 13th annual Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Border Battle once again provided lots of sizzling play.
Minnesota came out on top in five of the seven contests to take a 47-31 lead in the all-time series of the event, but Wisconsin got a pair of convincing victories from Brookfield East and Waupun.
Following are some observations from the Border Battle, sponsored annually by the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook and The Breakdown.
Since basketball is a team game, here are some thoughts on the seven Wisconsin teams that took part in the Border Battle:
The Cardinals suffered a 58-45 loss to a very good Minnesota Valley Lutheran squad that improved to 14-1. The Cardinals of coach Rich Sonnentag are adjusting to life without senior guard Ryan Jacque (5-10), who has missed the past month with an injury. Still, Thorp remained within striking distance of Minnesota Valley Lutheran for much of the contest thanks to the strong all-around play of mobile 6-foot-6 junior Isaac Soumis, who scored 22 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 1 shot. Soumis got some offensive help from junior Ethan Reis (6-1), who had 15 points, but missed 10 of 13 shots from three-point range. Soumis and Reis give Thorp a solid one-two scoring punch and could make things difficult for opponents in the Western Cloverbelt Conference heading down the stretch run of the season.
Clear Lake (14-1)
When the Warriors came out to warm up for their contest with a very good Lake City squad, senior forward Bailey Blanchard (6-5) was in street clothes. That immediately signaled trouble for Clear Lake, which sustained a 73-54 loss with its best player sidelined with a sprained knee. Blanchard said prior to the contest he is hoping to return to action later this week, so that is good news for coach Jason Sargent and the Warriors. However, Blanchard's squad missed his production and activity against Lake City, which took a 41-26 halftime lead and then kept a double-digit lead for the entire second half. Blanchard, who averages 21.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, is receiving strong recruiting interest from NCAA Division II Bemidji State along with NCAA Division III River Falls and St. Thomas, among others. In his absence, senior Marshall Cain (6-5) had a strong outing for Clear Lake, scoring 18 points and drilling three shots from outside the three-point arc. Senior Bryce Hacker (6-5) added 12 points and 7 rebounds. Clear Lake holds a two-game lead over Cameron in the Lakeland Central Conference and figures to be a serious threat to return to the WIAA Division 4 State Tournament come March.
Whitefish Bay (5-9)
The Blue Dukes have some talented individuals and played a very tight game against St. Croix Lutheran as the lead changed hands seven times and there were eight ties in the contest. However, lack of perimeter defense hindered Whitefish Bay down the stretch and it sustained an 82-74 setback on the strength of 15 made three-point shots by St. Croix Lutheran. The Crusaders, who improved to 8-7 with the triumph, made 15 of 31 tries from beyond the three-point arc while Whitefish Bay managed to connect on just 4 of 23 tries from three-point range. That 45-12 different proved to be too much to overcome for the Blue Dukes, who got a solid outing from promising sophomore guard Jayden Jackson (6-3). Jackson made 10 of 18 floor shots and finished with 23 points to go along with 6 assists. Senior Demtrius Johnson (6-3), who has battled injuries throughout his prep career, added 15 points for coach Chris Millner's squad.
The Warriors looked every bit like the state's best WIAA Division 3 squad during their 94-68 dismantling of a Rochester Mayo squad that features a pair of NCAA Division I prospects in junior brothers Gabe (6-5) and Mason Madsen (6-3). Northern Kentucky recruit Marcus Domask (6-6) overcome some foul trouble to record a triple double for the victors, finishing with 19 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. He got plenty of help from Minnesota-Crookston recruit Quintin Winterfeldt (6-5), who made 9 of 12 shots from the field and scored 22 points while also snaring 8 rebounds and handing out 6 assists. Waupun also got a tremendous outing from physical senior forward Reece Homan (6-5), who bullied his way to the basket for 22 points on 11 of 12 shooting. Waupun played great team basketball with 28 assists on 40 made baskets. The Warriors of coach Dan Domask also defended at a very high level, holding the Madsen brothers to a combined 18 of 44 from the field. Waupun did sustain a loss on the road to Martin Luther earlier this season, but the Warriors enter the final month of the regular season as the team to beat among Division 3 schools in the state.
Brookfield East (12-3)
Coming off impressive victories over rivals Brookfield Central and Wauwatosa West earlier in the week, the Spartans looked as sharp as any team possibly could in crushing an Apple Valley program that had won three of the past six Class 4A state titles in Minnesota. The Spartans' 91-59 triumph was fueled in large part by the outstanding play of senior forward Riley LeTourneau (6-5), who just might be the most improved player in Wisconsin. The rugged and physical LeTourneau scored 34 points and made all 9 of his foul shots to spark the Spartans, who played their usual stellar defense while screening the Apple Valley players to death on the other end of the court. There might not be a better coach in Wisconsin than Brookfield East's Joe Rux. From his days at Manitowoc Roncalli to his new digs at Brookfield East, Rux always has his teams prepared to play, and they almost always compete with great energy while sharing the ball and making shots. Simply put, Rux's teams are a pleasure to watch because the players buy in to what he is preaching and because the fortunes of the team always comes first.
The Hilltoppers had the pleasure of playing against one of the top teams in the entire Midwest in Minnehaha Academy, which boasts three sure-fire NCAA Division I recruits in junior point guard Jalen Suggs (6-4), sophomore forward Chet Holmgren (7-0) and freshman forward Prince Aligbe (6-5). Gonzaga head coach Mark Few was in attendance at the event to recruit Suggs, who is ranked among the top 20 players nationally in the 2020 class. Onalaska got out of sorts a bit in the first half and saw Minnehaha Academy race to a 38-18 lead intermission. But coach Craig Kowal's group responded well in the second 18 minutes and managed to cut its deficit down to six points with six minutes left before winding up on the short end of a 73-60 score. Onalaska shot 19 percent in the first half and just 28 percent for the game as Holmgren blocked 7 shots and altered many more. Still, Onalaska moved the ball well and took good shots while getting a solid outing from dependable junior wing Carson Arenz (6-5), who finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds. The Hilltoppers will be better going forward for playing a stellar team like Minnehaha Academy. And though they did lose, Onalaska's young players, particularly sophomores Sam Kick (6-1), Victor Desmond (6-2) and Gavin McGrath (6-9), showed flashes of developing into outstanding players.
Brookfield Central (11-4)
A brutally difficult week finally came to an end for the Lancers, who dropped an 80-62 decision to the host school, East Ridge. Brookfield Central trailed by 41-29 at intermission and couldn't make a hard charge against a team that boasts three NCAA Division I prospects in senior Courtney Brown (6-6) along with junior Ben Carlson (6-9) and sophomore Kendall Brown (6-7). Courtney Brown has committed to UW-Milwaukee while Carslon and Kendall Brown will be high-major Division I players. Senior Gage Malensek (6-0) did his best to keep the Lancers close, but his 21 points weren't nearly enough. The Lancers of coach Dan Wandrey sustained losses last week to Brookfield East, Sussex Hamilton and East Ridge. And even though they lost all three games, there is still considerable talent in the program with Malensek, senior Cole Nau (6-3) and sophomore David Joplin (6-6) leading the way. How the Lancers respond to their losses in that enormously difficult stretch of games will determine just how far they advance come March.
Here is an unofficial All-Border Battle squad for the seven Wisconsin teams that competed in the event:
Marcus Domask, 6-6, Sr., G/F, Waupun
Domask's triple double was accomplished without a lot of fanfare or flash, but rather with the solid, dependable play he has become known for the past four seasons. Domask's efficiency on offense was a thing of beauty as he scored 19 points on 13 shots. He also grabbed 13 defensive rebounds while handing out his 11 assists. The leading candidate for the coveted Mr. Basketball award, Domask most certainly helped his cause with his strong play against Rochester Mayo.
Riley LeTourneau, 6-5, Sr., F, Brookfield East
As mentioned earlier, there is probably not a more improved player in the state than LeTourneau, who figures to play baseball at the collegiate level. LeTourneau's improved physical strength and confidence were on full display during East's crushing victory over Apple Valley. LeTourneau is an undersized post player, but he used superb footwork and toughness to break free from taller defenders en route to scoring his 34 points. He made 12 of 19 shots from the floor and got fouled five times. Once at the foul line, LeTourneau cashed in big time, making all 9 of his charity tosses.
Quintin Winterfeldt, 6-4, Sr., G/F, Waupun
The NCAA Division II recruit for Minnesota-Crookston turned in one of the better games of his prep career in the Warriors' win over Rochester Mayo. The transfer from Fond du Lac scored at a high level (22 points), but it was his poise and decision making that stood out the most. Winterfeldt let the game come to him and he responded by making 9 of 12 shots from the field and 3 of 4 from three-point range. A good athlete who has added strength to his frame, Winterfeldt also grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 6 assists.
Jayden Jackson, 6-3, Soph., G, Whitefish Bay
One of the state's better class of 2021 prospects, Jackson turned in a solid performance for the Blue Dukes in their loss to St. Croix Lutheran. He made shots from outside the three-point arc, from mid range and by going all the way to the basket. Jackson scored a team-high 23 points and made 10 of 18 floor shots while also grabbing six rebounds and coming up with three steals. Jackson played with good energy and purpose, and possesses a good frame for adding weight and strength in the future.
Carson Arenz, 6-5, Jr., G/F, Onalaska
Playing against athletes with length and size, Arenz still managed to score 17 points while also making several trips to the foul line for Onalaska in its loss to Minnehaha Academy. A very good long-distance shooter, Arenz was crowded a bit on the perimeter so he opted to use ball fakes to put the ball on the floor and get around defenders. He made 7 of 8 foul shots for the Hilltoppers while also hauling down 5 rebounds and dishing out a couple of assists. Arenz and junior classmate Tyrell Stuttley (6-4) give the Hilltoppers a solid one-two scoring punch. Stuttley had 9 points against Minnehaha Academy.
Sam McGath, 6-2, Jr., G/F, Brookfield East
A versatile, physically and mentally tough wing who does whatever is needed to help his team win. At times, that means scoring. At other times, that means being more of a facilitator. But at all times, it means playing strong defense. McGath accomplished all of the above against Apple Valley as he finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. Like most of the Brookfield East players, McGath doesn't make many mistakes. His presence on the floor is a must for the Spartans because of his consistent level of play.
Isaac Soumis, 6-6, Jr., F, Thorp
Soumis was efficient, active and productive for Thorp in its loss to a Minnesota Valley Lutheran squad that got 33 points and 12 rebounds from NCAA Division II Sioux Falls recruit Jake Kettner. Soumis made 8 of 10 shots from the floor and 6 of 7 from the foul line en route to scoring 22 points. He also had 7 rebounds and a blocked shot. His mobility in the post allowed him to shed defenders and score at the rim. He also had a dunk for the Cardinals and figures to be a handful for opponents in the Western Cloverbelt Conference over the next two seasons.
Marshall Cain, 6-5, Sr., F, Clear Lake
Cain connected on 3 of 4 shots from outside the arc for Clear Lake and scored a team-high 18 points with his running mate, Bailey Blanchard, on the bench in street clothes due to a knee injury. Cain is a physically strong forward who can mix things up inside or step outside and make some shots. He figures to play football in college, but his presence in the Clear Lake basketball line-up is a major reason why the Warriors could very well end up at the WIAA Division 4 State Tournament for the second year in a row.
Reece Homan, 6-5, Sr., F, Waupun
Homan received the ball at the high post several times in the Warriors' win over Rochester Mayo, and he made the most of his scoring chances as he drove hard to the basket to finish off layups en route to scoring 22 points on 11 of 12 shooting. A four-year varsity performer for the Warriors, Homan's presence in the lineup gives Waupun a physically strong interior player who can score in the paint.
Gage Malensek, 6-0, Sr., PG, Brookfield Central
Malensek tried to overcome the onslaught administered by tremendously talented East Ridge by driving to the basket and using his physical strength and uncanny hang time to score over taller defenders. He made 10 of 16 shots from the floor on the way to scoring 21 points. He also had 5 assists and 5 rebounds while playing with his trademark gritty style. The NCAA Division II recruit for Truman State was not the least bit intimidated by the athleticism and length of the East Ridge players.
Next year's Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Border Battle is set for February 1, 2020 at La Crosse Central High School.
Wisconsin teams taking part in the event include Stratford, Brookfield Academy, La Crosse Central, Kaukauna, Milwaukee Washington, Eau Claire North and Onalaska.
Minnesota teams taking part include Lakeville North, Rochester Mayo, Austin, Mahtomedi, Minnehaha Academy, Lake City and Spring Grove.