ST. PETER - One thing was very clear for the Springfield boys' basketball team on Monday.
If the Tigers were going to defeat Mountain Lake Area in the Section 2A, South Sub-section championship game, they would have to limit the impact of 6-foot-7 Wolverines center Carter Kirk.
Kirk wasn't about to be contained, however, scoring 29 points and adding 14 rebounds to lead the Wolverines to the sub-section title with a 70-44 victory at Gustavus Adolphus College.
"Our gameplan was just to try and double [Kirk] and make the outside guys beat us," Springfield senior Isaac Kirschstein said. "They just came out on top, and there's just not much we could do tonight."
The Wolverines (23-5) will now take on Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity (17-11) on Friday at Minnesota State University, Mankato for the Section 2A championship and a berth in the state tournament. Mountain Lake Area is the defending Section 2A champion.
Springfield hung in against the MLA early on in Monday's game, but by the end the Wolverines were dominating the boards on both ends of the floor and scored enough fast-break baskets to prevent the Tigers from ever catching up.
Springfield ended up with just 21 total rebounds in the game.
"We just had a tough time rebounding tonight," Kirschstein said. "When they would miss shots, we just didn't get the defensive boards that we had to. I think that was the difference, just the second-chance points that they got. You can't have that happen and win."
With eight minutes remaining in the first half, the score was tied at 16-16. From that point, however, the Wolverines launched a 17-4 run to build a 33-20 lead.
Springfield ended the first half on a high note, scoring the final six points before the break on a pair of free throws by Cooper Scheffler, a Kirschstein 3-pointer and a Cole Milbrath free throw to cut its deficit to 33-26.
"Going into halftime we were feeling pretty confident, but they came out in the second half ready to play," Tigers senior Christopher Kretsch said. "They scored a bunch of easy baskets, we didn't get back on defense, and it cost us."
MLA opened the second half on a 10-3 run, but Springfield finally got going by following with a 6-2 run to put the score at 45-35 with 12 minutes left in the contest.
From that point on, however, the Wolverines dominated in all aspects of the game, ending the game on a 25-9 run.
"We talked about blocking out and rebounding, and obviously it just didn't get done," Springfield head coach Lance Larson said. "I told the kids, 'Sometimes it isn't your day,' and obviously I don't think today was ours."
The Wolverines gave the Tigers very little room to maneuver on offense, with Kirk amassing seven blocks down low and the rest of the team's defense giving Springfield very few outside looks. The Tigers managed just six field goals in the second half.
"I think they really came out with great defensive energy, really worked hard shutting down our perimeter game," Larson said. "We just couldn't get a lot of open looks, and then obviously they killed us on the boards... we just didn't have anything to contain Kirk. He's very aggressive and played very well."
Josiah Stoesz was the second leading scorer for the Wolverines with 14 points and also added nine rebounds and two steals. Kirk and Andrew Hempeck (seven points) each had eight assists, with Kirk adding three steals.
Kirschstein was the Tigers' leading scorer with 13 points and also had a team-high seven rebounds. Kretsch had 11 points, three assists and three steals and Scheffler contributed 10 points.
The Tigers finish their season with a 20-7 record, with the team's buzzer-beating win against St. Clair in the sub-section semifinals a season highlight.
"We did pretty good, I guess," Kretsch said about the season. "We lost first round last year, so we wanted to come back. We won a good, close game last game at the buzzer, so it was alright. I'm kind of disappointed that we didn't get to go to Mankato and play, but it is what it is, I guess."
The Tigers will lose a talented group of seniors to graduation, but Larson feels that they ended their careers with a very respectable season.
"You couldn't ask for anything more out of those six, seven guys," Larson said. "They worked hard all year, and I think if you would have asked every one of them tonight, they would have had a bad taste in their mouth. But I told them when they look at the year, at 20-7, probably not very many of them would have thought we would have been that if you had asked them at the beginning of the year. Hats off to them for working hard all season, and that's something you can't take away from them."