Yellowjackets 74, Lumberjacks 72
The free throw. It's supposed to be the easiest shot in the game of basketball. Nobody putting any pressure on, just time to get lined up, get right, and drain it. It seems so easy. In Tuesday's season opener for the Yellowjackets, however, it was anything but that. Throughout much of the game the Yellowjackets struggled from the free throw line and it nearly came back to bite them. A second half scoring surge helped the Yellowjackets erase a seven-point halftime deficit and squeak out a 74-72 victory at Northland College's Kendrigan Gym.
Following a Dustin Ritchie (Superior, Wis.) free throw, Northland's R.J. Dean took the pass in the closing seconds and drove toward the Yellowjacket basket. A three-pointer would have won the game, but Dean elected to get closer and play for the tie, only to lose his grip on the ball and never got a shot away.
The first half was back-and-forth early before the Lumberjacks pulled away, building the lead to as much as 13, leading 43-30 with 2:30 to play. The Yellowjackets would go on a 6-0 run to close the half, with seniors Ben Aalfs (Hutchinson, Minn.) and Ritchie combining for the six points. The duo scored ten points apiece in the first half.
Down six to start the second half, the Yellowjackets worked quickly to erase the deficit, tying the game at 46-46 just over four minutes in when Aalfs hit a three-pointer. Bronson Byrne (Chanhassen, Minn.), who scored just twice in the first half, turned it up in the second, scoring six of the first ten points of the half. The Yellowjackets would finally take their first lead since the game was less than five minutes old with 7:35 to play in regulation time when Adam Hjelter (Hutchinson, Minn.) hit a three-pointer to break a 52-52 tie. The Yellowjackets would never see their lead increase beyond six points, which it got to when Hjelter sunk a pair of free throws with only 23 seconds left.
With the lead and time waning, the Yellowjackets appeared to be in control, but the Lumberjacks got right back into the game. They pulled to within one with six seconds left. Dean was fouled in the act of shooting a three-pointer, and he made all three of his free throws to make it a 73-72 game. Ritchie made his free throw with five seconds to play, and following Dean's lost ball time expired and the Yellowjackets escaped with a two-point victory.
Aalfs led the Yellowjackets with a game-high 24 points and also had a team-best 11 rebounds. Hjelter and Byrne had 12 points each, while Ritchie threw down 11. Ritchie led the Yellowjackets with six assists. Aalfs, Byrne and Hjelter had one block each, while Eric Holten (Barron, Wis.) had two steals.
The Yellowjackets shot 44.2% from the floor in the game. They shot just 26.3% from three-point range and 59% from the free throw line.
Adrian Flores led the Lumberjacks with 16 points and was one of five players in double figures.
The Yellowjackets (1-0, 0-0 WIAC) will be hosting the 2011 Merrill Thompson Tip-Off Classic, hosted by the National Bank of Commerce the weekend of November 18-19. Their first game of the tournament is Friday at 8:00 p.m. against Finlandia.