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Unseeded Goodhue embraces underdog role at Class 1A boys basketball state tournament

Mar. 20—GOODHUE — There was a point during the Goodhue's boys basketball season when things weren't looking too good for the Wildcats. But sometimes adversity turns out to be a blessing in disguise.

In late December, Wildcats starters Sean Matthees and Gavin Schafer were injured on back-to-back nights in a tournament at Grand Meadow. Both players missed significant time, Schafer with an elbow injury and Matthees with a broken ankle.

A short time later the Wildcats lost seven games in a row to drop to 11-12. But Schafer has returned to his starting position and Matthees, although not 100 percent, is back as a key reserve.

And since the losing skid, Wildcats have gone 7-1. That included going 4-0 during the Section 1, Class 1A tournament as a No. 6 seed to earn a state berth.

Coach Matt Halverson said some of Goodhue's younger players had to step up when Schafer, a two-year starter, and the hard-nosed Matthees were out.

"Even though we took those lumps, we saw progress in our team," Halverson said. "And it forced guys to play different positions, it forced guys into minutes they weren't used to and some guys have now stepped up because they have that varsity experience."

The Wildcats (18-13) enter the Class 1A state tournament in an underdog role once again. They will face No. 3 seed Fertile-Beltrami (25-6) in the state quarterfinals on Thursday at Target Center.

The youthful Wildcats have yet to be intimated during the postseason. Their starting lineup features two seniors (Schafer, Jed Ryan), two sophomores (Luke Roschen, Michael Roschen) and an eighth-grader (Alex Loos).

And while it might not have a stellar record, Goodhue is battle-tested as it plays mostly Class 2A and 3A schools during the regular season.

Luke Roschen and Loos, who are both 6-foot-1, have been the team's top two scorers, averaging 18 and 14 points per game. Six other Wildcats average between four and eight points per outing.

"We just have to play solid and we can beat some teams up there, too," Luke Roschen said.

The Wildcats don't play until 5 p.m. in the quarterfinals so they are going to bus up to Target Center the day of the game. Halverson said a strong showing at the section tournament at Mayo Civic Center should have his young team ready to play on the big stage.

"It's going to be fun," Halverson said. "I'm confident with them playing well up there."

Fertile-Beltrami is athletic and like Goodhue, not very tall. The Falcons do have a 6-3 point guard in Caleb Swenby who can score from both inside and outside.

"We know they're good and it's going to be a challenge, but we also know the schedule we played, and even the section opponents that we've played will have us prepared," Halverson said.

Halverson said Fertile-Beltrami is similar to teams the Wildcats have faced over the course of the regular season and section tournament. Halverson said the Falcons remind him of Rushford-Peterson, a team that Goodhue defeated 75-64 in the section tournament.

"I felt like we defended R-P pretty well and that's exactly what it's going to take if we're going to pull another upset," Halverson said.

Defense and the ability to rebound — despite not having a starter over 6-foot-1 — have been big reasons for Goodhue's turnaround this season. Halverson said the biggest reason, however, has been the team's ability to protect the basketball. During their tough stretch, the Wildcats were plagued with turnovers.

"That's something as coaches we really tried to emphasize," Halverson said.

The players took those lessons to heart.

"At the beginning of the season, we kind of turned the ball over and didn't value possessions," Luke Roschen said. "Now we realize we need to value possessions and stack stops (on defense), so that's been our key so far."

Limiting possessions of other teams has been important for Goodhue because Halverson said the Wildcats have played very good half-court basketball on both defense and offense.

Cherry (28-2) and West Central Area (27-3) are the top two seeds in the eight-team Class 1A field. The Goodhue and Fertile-Beltrami winner could face West Central in the semifinals at 2 p.m. Friday at Williams Arena. The title game is at 11 a.m. Saturday at Williams Arena.

Class 1A state pairings.