CM/C Cougars, Springfield Tigers battle for state boys’ basketball berth
MANKATO — With a trip to Williams Arena on the line, Tomahawk Conference rivals Cedar Mountain/Comfrey and Springfield will battle once again on Friday at Minnesota State University, Mankato for the right to go to the Class A state tournament next week.
The Cougars, coming off of a 12-15 season a year ago, feature a lineup dominated by underclassmen, much like the Tigers. The only difference is that the Tigers experienced a lot of success last year, finishing 21-7.
This year, both teams are 27-2 and the two will meet for the third time this year at Bresnan Arena. Springfield won both games this year in the regular season, but of course, that means nothing now.
“We’re playing pretty good, we’re sharing the ball well and defensively it seems like we get locked in pretty well,” Springfield coach Lance Larson said.
The Tigers are led by sophomore Isaac Fink, who has averaged 23 points per game. He’s been the best all-round player on the team, with 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals per game too. He’s turned it on especially during playoff time.
“Ike is a great kid, he works so hard,” Larson said. “I said this from the time he was just a little guy running around when Alex [Fink, his older brother] was playing. He lives and breathes it, there’s probably not a day goes by that he’s not in the gym. He’s playing real well and he’s starting to shoot it a little better and hopefully that continues.”
Senior Kale Meendering gives the Tigers a physical presence and he has played well against CM/C this year. He’s currently averaging 16 ppg. Junior Tanner Vogel is averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game.
Freshman Decker Scheffler gives the Tigers valuable minutes off the bench, averaging 10.1 ppg, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals per game.
“We have three kids coming off the bench that we’re pretty confident in, going eight deep,” Larson said. “Decker probably deserves, but he plays well in that role. I told him when he comes in off the bench, we instantly get better. If we can use our depth to our advantage Friday night, I think that’s where our advantage is.”
The key to the game could be the bench, where Springfield plays three players off the bench and CM/C plays one or two players off the bench.
CM/C last appeared in the Section 2A championship game in 2009, where they lost to eventual state champion Granada-Huntley-East Chain. This year, CM/C is led by senior Derek Pendleton. He averages 17 ppg, 5.3 assists and 6 rebounds per game.
“He’s a good leader for us, the best thing about him is he leads by example and he works hard on the defensive end,” CM/C coach Brian Pendleton said. “A lot of guys follow his lead.”
Junior Dylan Hillesheim averages 17 ppg, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 steals. Wambde Diaz, another junior, averages 14 ppg, 8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 3.1 steals. His all-around game has been impressive and he has four triple doubles on the year. He also had 32 rebounds in a game this year, which is ninth in state history.
Sophomore Eli Samuelson averages 13 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and another sophomore, Lewis Pendleton, also averages double digits in points.
While the Cougars have played well this, Pendleton wasn’t exactly sure how this year would play out at the beginning of the year.
“I knew we had a chance to be a good team, it just depended on how quickly the guys started to play together and get to know each other,” coach Pendleton said. “They really came together a lot quicker than I had hoped and anticipated. They are familiar with each other and they know where each other is going to be on the floor.”
The Cougars move the ball well and they have five scorers than can take over at any time.
“This is a good group for me and they key to the success has been the unselfish play of all of them,” Pendleton said. “We’ve got five starters that on any given night have gone for at least 25 [points in a game] at least one time or another. They’re all very capable scorers and the best part about it is they all enjoy passing.”
The losses to Springfield are the only blemish on CM/C’s season. But the Cougars have come a long way since then.
“I think we’re a much more confident bunch now,” Pendleton said. “In the beginning, they didn’t know how good they could be, but now they’re more confident and they certainly know what they’re capable of doing now.”