Late surge lifts Hancock Owls past St. Mary's Knights in state semifinals

Kip Kovar, Special to the Herald-Dispatch

The ultimate goal of a state championship just wasn’t in the cards for the Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s boys basketball team. After a strong first half, it was the Hancock Owls who turned up the pressure in a 65-53 victory over the Knights, Wednesday morning at Target Center.

State Tournament scenes: clockwise from top left - Trent Steffensmeier looks for a shot, Carson Domeier in the play; Kaleb Wait shoots, high scorer in the game with 19; Jacob Lux battles for control of the ball; Seniors Braden Hansen (center) and Kyle Goblirsch.

“There were only a few teams remaining and we were one of them,” Knights coach Judd Walter said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but the season as a whole gives us so much to be proud of. This group really set the tone and turned the program around. This playoff run was amazing.”

Thanks to a big first half from sophomore Kaleb Wait, SESM had themselves in great shape at the half. Wait picked up two early fouls but kept his composure the rest of the way helping the Knights take a five-point lead into halftime.

“Picking up those two fouls was definitely a big thing,” Walter said. “To put him back in there and have a great first half and a great game overall was huge. He’s a true point guard. We are definitely different when he’s on the floor. For him to get back out there and play with poise was just huge for us.”

The Knights shot 62% from the field in the first half. The second half was a different story as the Owls turned up the pressure on defense.

“On defense, they really ramped things up in the second half and made it difficult for us,” Walter said. “They had a ton of intensity. They played physical and took us out of a few things that we like to do. They just made it very difficult to do anything with the dribble. We missed some shots so that was kind of a big difference, too.”

After a 3-pointer from Trent Steffensmeier brought the Knights within two with just over six minutes to go, Hancock took over the game defensively. SESM went five minutes without scoring a point, giving the Owls a chance to extend their lead.

Clutch shots and big free throws down the stretch led Hancock to win as SESM couldn’t overcome the long drought. Hancock will face Hayfield in the Class A state championship Saturday.

Wait led the way for the Knights with a team-high 19 points. Steffensmeier added 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting, while Jacob Lux and Kyle Goblirsch each chipped in six points.

With the loss, SESM’s season comes to an end with a 20-4 record. Seniors on this year’s team include Braden Hansen, Lux, and Goblirsch.

“They’re just great leaders,” Walters said about his three seniors. “They all lead in different ways. They’ve just been great. They’re a really great group of kids and it’s going to be hard to replace them.”