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Boys Basketball: Wingers avoid upset in 1AAA opener

Red Wing's Isaac Toivonen (right) goes for a layup as an Albert Lea defender comes in for a block attempt during the first half of Thursday's Section 1AAA quarterfinal game at Sonju Gymnasium. Toivonen had 13 points in the Wingers' 64-54 victory. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)1 / 2
Red Wing's Jon Sevlie (middle) puts up a jump shot over an Albert Lea defender midway through the second half in Thursday's Section 1AAA quarterfinal game at Sonju Gymnasium. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)2 / 2

Section seedings may make a matchup look like certain victory on paper, like with Thursday’s Section 1AAA opener between second-seeded Red Wing and seventh-seeded Albert Lea.

But after a hot first half that saw the Tigers trail by just two at halftime, the Wingers knew they had to refocus to avoid the upset.

“When everybody expects you to win and everybody tells you how much you should win by, sometimes those are the toughest games to play,” said Red Wing head coach Doug Toivonen. “Our kids maybe felt that pressure a little bit in the first half.”

Albert Lea continued to show some fight, but the Wingers stepped up the intensity – especially on the defensive end – and advanced to the next round with a 64-54 victory at Sonju Gymnasium.

“We knew (the section seedings) didn’t mean much because we knew we were going to have to play our best to get the win,” said Red Wing sophomore Travis Toivonen.

A blowout seemed imminent when the Wingers sprang out to a 6-0 lead after 3-pointers by Ty Buck and Jon Sevlie. But thanks to the outside shooting of Tyler Vandenheuvel and the inside play of Dedoch Chan, the Tigers made it a back-and-forth 18 minutes, making it a 32-30 game at halftime. Vandenheuvel scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half, while Chan scored 10 of his game-high 18 points before halftime.

“(Vandenheuvel) went off for a little bit. I lost him a few times and he got hot there with a few threes,” Sevlie said.

The Albert Lea duo of Vandenheuvel and Chan kept the Tigers in the game. So the Wingers refocused in the locker room defensively with the hopes of making the pair a non-factor.

Thanks to an improved defensive effort, sparked by Sevlie, Vandenheuvel scored just one field goal in the second half.

“Whoever was guarding (Vandenheuvel), we couldn’t leave him,” Sevlie said. “That just slowed everything down for them because so much was running through him.”

In the post, the best way to keep Chan off the scoreboard was stopping the ball before it got to him. With that in mind, the Wingers had 17 steals in the game, with Buck swiping the ball a team-high seven times.

“Our defense was a lot more active as far as getting tipped passes and steals,” Doug Toivonen said. “That was probably the key, staying active defensively.”

Meanwhile, Red Wing kept up a balanced offensive attack that made it an 11-point game, 55-44 with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left after a breakaway layup from Nick Powers. The Tigers got no closer than nine the rest of the way.

Travis Toivonen provided a much-needed boost off the bench with a team-high 15 points to go with seven rebounds and four steals.

“Travis has been playing really well for about the last month, and it was nice to see him play with some confidence,” Doug Toivonen said. “When he got the ball, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it. We’re going to need him if we want to keep moving on. He came in and was really aggressive.”

Sevlie had 14 points and four assists, Isaac Toivonen had 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals, and Buck finished with 12 points.

After fending off an upset, Red Wing shifts its focus to Saturday, where it will play host to No. 3 seed Winona. On Thursday, the Winhawks opened the playoffs with a 72-32 thrashing of Stewartville.

Back on Dec. 17, Red Wing held on for a 42-39 victory over Winona.

“We know we’re going to have a tough game again,” Travis Toivonen said about the rematch against the Winhawks. “We have to come out and play really hard and get a ‘W.’ … We always have to come out and play really hard because this is a really good section.”

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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