HIBBING — The Hibbing boy’s basketball team took on Section 7AAA rival Grand Rapids Tuesday, on the Kevin Mchale court, in Hibbing.
Every meeting between these two teams is sure to result in a hard-fought battle, and this game proved no different.
In the end, the Bluejackets left the court with the always important section win as they defeated the Thunderhawks 49-45.
The Thunderhawks got the scoring started as Trent Johnson drained a three, but the Bluejackets responded quickly as Ayden McDonald got a quick basket, and on the next possession, Mayson Brown went one-for-two from the free-throw line to tie it at three.
Offensively, the two teams were not lighting the scoreboard on fire halfway through the first half. Grand Rapids broke the double-digit point mark first, leading 11-7.
Hibbing head coach Joel McDonald knew points would be at a premium with two section rivals squaring off.
“They were two teams that went after each other,” McDonald said. “There’s always a few nerves when it comes to the Rapids, Hibbing game.
“We’ve had some battles in recent games.”
For the rest of the first half, the Thunderhawks had the clamps put on their offense.
An aggressive Bluejacket defense, along with a flurry of missed shots, held Grand Rapids off the scoreboard for 10 minutes.
Joel McDonald gave credit to his defense for making the Thunderhawks play on their heels during that stretch.
“When we scramble and get after people, we can make the offense uncomfortable,” McDonald said.
Hibbing took advantage of that dry spell as it scored 14-unanswered points to take a 21-11 lead.
Both teams would add a couple of baskets, and as they headed to the half, Hibbing led 24-16.
McDonald knew the Thunderhawks would not continue to miss some of their easier shots as the teams headed into the second half.
“Grand Rapids missed some shots they had (in the first half) on some of the good looks they had,” McDonald said. “Those makes came more abundantly in the second half.”
In the second half, those shots started to drop.
The Bluejackets started the half with an McDonald three, with Brown assisting on the play. Grand Rapids answered right back with a three of its own by Brady Bachmann.
Hibbing kept its lead at 10 points for the second half's opening minutes thanks to baskets by McDonald, Brown, Eli Erickson and Parker Maki.
Down by 15, Grand Rapids got its first signs of life with a couple of quick baskets from Bachmann and Austin Hanson, capped off by Hanson hitting a deep three to cut the lead to eight, forcing Hibbing to use a timeout with 5:55 remaining.
During the timeout, Joel McDonald wanted to give his team a second to gather their wits.
“We were talking about being mentally connected,” McDonald said. “Today we broke down more with the mental approach than our physical approach.”
Coming out of the timeout, Hibbing scored a quick basket as McDonald hit Maki for a fast break layup to get the lead back to 10 points.
The Thunderhawks scored six-straight points to make 47-43 with just under two minutes left.
“We had an opportunity to be really comfortable,” McDonald said. “We followed up pretty solid offensive possessions with an inability to guard on the defensive end.”
Grand Rapids forced a jump ball on the next possession and got a chance to make it a one-score game as the possession arrow was in their favor.
After a couple of missed shots, Danny Markovich scored from under the basket to cut Hibbing’s lead to two points.
Grand Rapids was forced to foul, sending the Bluejackets to the free-throw line.
McDonald lined for a crucial one-and-one., making both attempts, and extending Hibbing’s lead to four, 49-45, with 17.4 seconds left.
“Getting to the line and knocking down those shots is clutch,” Joel McDonald said.
McDonald credited his team for putting in the work to be able to knock down those game-sealing shots.
“The guys you want at the end of that situation are the ones you know have put in a lot of time in the gym shooting free throws over and over,” McDonald said.
The Thunderhawks got off one last three-point attempt, but it came up short, and the Bluejackets ended the game victorious.
Ayden McDonald led Hibbing with 20 points. Maki finished with 10 points, and Erickson netted eight points.
Hanson led Grand Rapids with 12 points, and Bachmann finished with 11.
GRHS 16 29 — 45
HHS 24 25 — 49
Grand Rapids: Austin Hanson 12; Brady Bachmann 11; Luke Roy 9; Trent Johnson 6; Ty Pederson 4; Danny Markovich 3.
Hibbing: Ayden McDonald 20; Parker Maki 10; Eli Erickson 8; Mayson Brown 6; Tre Holmes 3; Amari Manning 2.
Total Fouls: Grand Rapids 17; Hibbing: 11; Fouled Out: None; Free Throws: Grand Rapids 1-4; Hibbing 6-11. 3-pointers: McDonald 4, Roy 3, Hanson 2, Johnson 2, Bachmann, Holmes.