Boys basketball: Austin hopes to race to another section title

Austin guard Tate Hebrink drives for a basket earlier this season against John Marshall. The Packers and Hebrink will face Northfield in the Section 1AAA finals on Friday.

Northfield is trying to get where Austin has been. And Austin is trying to take the next step as an elite Class AAA boys basketball team.

Last year, Austin, coached by Kris Fadness, rolled to a Section One, Class AAA title and went on to place second in the state. This year, the Packers, ranked No. 2 in the state, have hopes of making another run at a state title. But to reach the state tournament, top-seeded Austin (25-2) will have to beat No. 2 Northfield (20-8) in the section finals. The Section 1AAA championship game is at 7 p.m. Friday at Mayo Civic Auditorium.

"I have a lot of respect for the program coach Fadness has built at Austin," Northfield coach Andy Berkvam said. "We are trying to do the same thing in Northfield as this will be our third straight section title game. No team in Northfield had ever made consecutive title games until last year."

Austin defeated Northfield twice this season during Big Nine Conference play. But the Raiders suffered a narrow 56-49 loss in the second meeting in Austin and led by 14 points in the first half. In that game, Northfield missed its last seven free throws and last five field field-goal attempts as the Packers rallied to win.

"In the second half, our defense just locked them down," Fadness said. "We know what we have to do to be successful. If we play well, we should win, but you never know come tourney time."


In that second game, Fadness said the Raiders did a nice job of controlling the tempo. That will be imperative for Northfield again this time around. Austin is an uptempo team that has a lot of athletic ability. The Packers average a section-best 78.1 points per game and outscore foes by nearly 22 points per game.

"It’s really a battle of tempo," Fadness said. "We want to play fast; we want to run-and-gun a little bit and get teams to play fast. That’s what this game is all about, tempo and spurts."

Austin likes to use a zone press to force turnovers and get its running game going. High-flying 6-foot-5 senior forward Duoth Gach leads the Packers in scoring at 16.3 points per game. Other top players include 6-2 senior forward Moses Issa (12.4 ppg), 6-0 junior guard Medi Obang (13.0 ppg), 5-11 senior point guard Tate Hebrink (10.5 ppg, 5.3 apg) and 6-4 senior forward Nyagoa Obany (7.0 ppg).

"You have to handle Austin’s pressure, which is no secret, and you have to make shots," Berkvam said.

Northfield has a pair of strong and physical players in 6-3 senior guard Alex Rasmussen (16.0 ppg) and 6-6 junior guard Mason Zick (15.0 ppg). Those two standouts help the Raiders average 70.1 points per game.

"They’re the two scorers we’re most concerned about," Fadness said.

The Raiders enter the contest on a five-game winning streak and are confident they can play with the Packers.

"We are in the game we expected to be in at the start of the season and we expect to win," Berkvam said.


The Packers have made 31 state appearances over the years and Fadness has guided the team to three state runner-up finishes.

Northfield is seeking its first state berth since way back in 1932.

WHAT:The Section 1AAA boys basketball game.

WHO:Top-seeded Austin (25-2) will face No. 2 Northfield (20-8).

WHEN/WHERE:The game is at 7 p.m. Friday at the Mayo Civic Auditorium.

AT STAKE:The winner earns a berth in next week's Class AAA state tournament

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